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Former Kenyan minister faces hearing on coup plot

The man who for many years was regarded as one of Kenya's most loyal, talented, and conservative officials, Charles Njonjo, will attempt to defend himself this week against charges of trying to overthrow the government.

Njonjo, a close friend and adviser to the late President Jomo Kenyatta, steered Kenya through its difficult transition after Kenyatta's death in 1978 and helped ensure Daniel arap Moi's ascension to the presidency.

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But starting Friday, a three-judge commission will begin hearing testimony about charges that Njonjo concealed a plan or actually conspired to overthrow the Moi government in August 1982.

Ironically, Njonjo was Kenya's attorney-general during most of the post-independence era. In 1980, when he chose to go into politics (the attorney-general post is appointed), won a constituency, and was appointed by Moi as minister of constitutional affairs, his political power was immense.

The wide-ranging charges against him today are unprecedented in East Africa.

It is alleged that last spring Njonjo attended a Presbyterian Church prayer meeting that became an irregular political gathering. Those attending are said to have undermined the image of the President by comparing Moi to a sheep who could not lead his flock.

Njonjo allegedly conducted himself in a manner prejudicial to the state and calculated to cause alarm and despondency.

The commission is studying charges that Njonjo acted against Kenya's policy of good neighborliness and against the policy of opposing the regime of South Africa, among others.

Njonjo is also charged with being a party in the unsuccessful conspiracy to overthrow the government of the Seychelles in November 1981.

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It is alleged that Njonjo ''misused his office as attorney-general or minister by arrogating to himself the duties and powers of the President.'' And finally, he is accused of receiving or offering corrupt payments, granting favors to seek political support, and protecting persons involved in illegal activities.

Njonjo can appear either in person or, through his lawyer, to cross-examine witnesses at the inquiry.

Njonjo's defense team consists of a Kenyan African lawyer, Mr. Paul Muite, and a white lawyer, Mr. W.S. Deverell.

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