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Philip Kipchirchir Murgor, the 59-year-old mercurial former prosecutor, usually likes to have the last word. Four months after his dramatic dismissal at the height of a public uproar over the killing of wildlife warden Samson ole Sisina, then Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura wrote a one-page outline of Murgor’s entitlement in terminal dues following the termination of his three-year contract a year early. Murgor fired back with a 14-page response that not only complained about his shabby treatment, but also opened a closet rattling with skeletons.

Murgor listed 17 issues and criminal cases he claimed had brought friction between him and powerful forces in government. They included the controversy over how police wanted to dispose of a tonne of cocaine seized in Kenya worth Ksh6.4 billion; the Anglo Leasing scandal around the procurement of a forensic laboratory; the murder case against Lord Delamare’s grandson Tom Cholmondley; the prosecution of Goldenberg scandal mastermind Kamlesh Pattni for murder; and the fraud case against Ketan Somaia.

That letter has provided much of the fodder a section of the Law Society of Kenya has used to question his suitability for the Chief Justice’s job.

Murgor has not applied for the vacancy in the Supreme Court, making it clear that it is either the CJ’s job for him or nothing. The calculation could be to evoke conventional wisdom, which holds that the Supreme Court was designed to represent the big tribes in Kenya’s politics, and the retirement of Justice Philip Tunoi in 2016 meant that the Kalenjin community, the third largest in the country, has no representative in the apex court. The expected candidacy of Deputy President William Ruto in the 2022 elections would provide an optics nightmare for the judiciary if the Supreme Court does not have a Kalenjin on the Supreme Court.

Murgor’s spouse, Court of Appeal judge Agnes K. Murgor, withdrew her application for Deputy Chief Justice in 2016 citing personal reasons, but other community members who have applied for the Supreme Court vacancy include CJ candidate Alice Yano and High Court Judge Joseph Sergon.

Back in 2003, the political calculation in appointing Murgor as director of prosecutions was that he would bring the insider knowledge required to nail the suspects for crimes committed during the Daniel arap Moi era. He initially acted as go-between in negotiating the retirement of Chief Justice Bernard Chunga, whom the new administration had marked for removal from office.

While still the blue-eyed boy of the Narc administration, Murgor was in the thick of discussions with presidential commissions of inquiry into the Goldenberg corruption scandal, and was assisting counsel in the tribunal investigating corruption/misconduct allegations against several judges of the High Court in 2003.

Murgor quickly built confidence in the prosecution service by closing the door to the use of prosecutions for extortion. He designed and launched major reforms through the creation of a fully professional directorate, with a reporting structure from the district and provincial levels up to the national office. He rubbed establishment bosses the wrong way by phasing out lay and non-professional police prosecutors, and making it mandatory that professional prosecutors review all criminal investigation and prosecution files before commencing cases.

As a key member of the Governance, Justice, Law and Order Sector (GJLOS) initiative, he became a critical contact for visiting missions from the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other multi-lateral agencies keen on tackling corruption, money laundering, terrorism, drugs, and human trafficking.

For a while, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions was rolling in donor money, used to set up an ultra-modern facility to aggressively handle stalled anti-corruption and economic crime cases. A national prosecution policy and a manual to guide prosecutors throughout the country was developed.

When the appetite for tackling corruption in government dissipated, Murgor found himself often at odds with the very people who had pushed for his appointment, but was still dissuaded from resigning. He had opened the doors of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions to foreign partners frustrated with the culture of impunity in Kenya, and received funding that enabled him to begin to assert the office’s independence even before the guarantees of the 2010 Constitution. Such was his credibility in donor circles that even after his dismissal, Murgor was photographed twice with then Illinois Senator and later US President Barrack Obama in meetings arranged by the US state department.

As a former government insider, Murgor will be attractive to executive-minded members of the Judicial Service Commission hoping to break the traditional relationships between lawyers in private practice and judicial officers thought to frustrate government agenda. Some within the judiciary dread him as a man who knows where the skeletons are buried.

Murgor’s familiarity with government, and management experience could stand him in good stead in normalising relations between the Judiciary and the Executive. He was present as laws on money laundering, antiterrorism, witness protection, anti-narcotics, anticorruption and mutual legal assistance were being created, and was involved in the extradition of fugitives in international drug trafficking related crime.

Before has appointment as DPP, Murgor had first worked as state counsel at the Attorney General’s office for eight years after graduating from law school, securing convictions against government critics such as George Anyona before heading into private practice with his wife. He was the lawyer for the Central Bank of Kenya as it sought to recover money lost through the Goldenberg foreign exchange compensation scheme, and became a star player in the Commission of Inquiry that laid bare the anatomy of the Sh158 billion scandal. Murgor subsequently represented the Central Bank of Kenya in the Commission of Inquiry into the Sale of the Grand Regency Hotel.

Back in private practice, Murgor represented the World Duty Free Company against Kenya in an illegal expropriation claim in arbitration before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. He has argued cases at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, among them the digital migration case pitting the Communications Commission of Kenya against a consortium of media firms.
He successfully represented two female members of Limuru Country Club in overturning rules that discriminate against women in private clubs, and was recently in the headlines representing the widow of golfing tycoon Tob Cohen against a murder charge.

Murgor, a teetotaler, has been on the roll of advocates since 1986, and was appointed senior counsel in 2020 in the latest listing which had stalled owing to opposition from the Law Society of Kenya. He obtained a Master of Arts degree in international law from the University of Nairobi in 2011 and is member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), where he is on the Panel of Arbitrators. Murgor is also a patent agent under the Kenya Industrial Property Institute since 2010.

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