NAIROBI: Kenya authorities said Thursday they had arrested another pastor over suspected deaths at his church as police widen an investigation following dozens of deaths linked to a cult leader.
Ezekiel Odero, the head of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church, was arrested in the coastal town of Malindi following “allegations of the deaths that have been occurring at his premises,“ said Rhoda Onyancha, the government commissioner for the region.
“We have also taken action and closed the prayer centre going forward,“ she told reporters, without elaborating further on the nature of the allegations against Odero or his church.
Police have not connected him to Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the alleged cult leader under investigation for the deaths of 98 people linked to his church also based in the coastal region.
Odero, dressed in his signature all-white garb and clutching a Bible, was transferred from Malindi to the regional police headquarters in Mombasa for questioning.
A wealthy televangelist who draws huge crowds -- his church south of Malindi can seat 40,000 -- Odero claims that “holy” scraps of cloth sold at his mega-rallies can heal sickness.
The government has promised a crackdown on fringe denominations after the discovery of dozens of bodies in the last week on a property near Malindi belonging to Nthenge.
The self-styled preacher is accused of urging his followers to starve themselves to death as a path to God.
Most of those found in mass graves have been children, and police fear the death toll could rise as their search widens.
At least 22 people have been arrested over the gruesome saga so far.
Efforts to regulate Kenya’s dizzying array of churches and ministries have failed in the past, despite high-profile incidents of cults and rogue pastors being involved in crime.
Questions have emerged about how Nthenge was able to preach despite attracting police attention six years ago.
He was arrested in 2017 on charges of “radicalisation” after urging families not to send their children to school, saying education was not recognised by the Bible.
Nthenge was arrested again last month, according to local media, after two children starved to death in the custody of their parents.
He was released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($700) but surrendered to police after a raid on his property uncovered bodies.
Nthenge is due to appear in court on May 2. -AFP