Money Given to Kenya, Since Stolen, Puts Nike in Spotlight
NAIROBI, Kenya — When a Chinese clothing company swooped in and offered to sponsor Kenya’s famed runners, Nike panicked, Kenyan officials say.
“Can we talk about the situation?” a Nike executive wrote to a Kenyan official after hearing the news that the Kenyans wanted to end their deal with Nike. “You and I go back a long way.” What followed — according to email exchanges, letters, bank records and invoices, provided by a former employee of Kenya’s athletics federation — has led to a major scandal in Kenya, a country in the midst of its biggest war against corruption in years.
In a contract signed several years ago, Nike agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in honorariums and a one-time $500,000 “commitment bonus,” which the former employee called a bribe. The money was supposed to be used to help train and support poor Kenyan athletes who dream of running their way out of poverty. Instead, it was immediately sucked out of the federation’s bank account by a handful of Kenyan officials and kept off the books.
Nike has denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement that its payments were intended to help athletes, and it does not appear to be under investigation by the United States authorities. But the Kenyan authorities are suspicious. They have opened an extensive investigation, and all three Kenyan athletics officials accused of taking money from Nike have been suspended. Investigators with Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations said they had repeatedly asked Nike to provide more information. So far, they say, Nike has refused.
“Why was such a huge sum of money paid as commitment?” said one of the detectives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “It’s only Nike who can tell us.” John Githongo, one of Kenya’s leading voices against corruption, said the American government should pick up this case and “run with it.”
For more than 20 years, Nike Inc. has been paying the Kenyan national runners’ association millions of dollars in exchange for the Kenyans wearing Nike’s signature swoosh, superb advertising in the running world.
Can only be good for Skechers.