Kenyan Attorney-General Amos Wako said he had accepted the recommendation of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission to charge officials involved in the multimillion dollar "Anglo-Leasing" procurement scandal with abuse of office.
His decision comes as President Mwai Kibaki's government faces its worst political crisis since sweeping to power in December 2002, on a promise to clean up the corruption that flourished under his predecessor's 42-year reign.
Donors in recent weeks have demanded Kibaki take firm action to end embezzling or else have foreign aid witheld.
Two of those charged were permanent secretaries in Kibaki's government, while one held the same rank under former President Daniel arap Moi, whose rule was wracked with corruption. The other had worked in Kibaki's office.
"Prosecution will ensue without fear or favour and without regard to the status of the persons involved," Wako said in a statement.
All six pleaded not guilty in brief hearings on Wednesday. Four them face a maximum of three years in prison if convicted, while the other two are charged under a statute that permits a maximum penalty of 01 years in prison.
The Anglo-Leasing scam, which has been public for months, involved the payment of millions of dollars to a murky foreign firm for the provision of forgery-proof passports, and the building of three forensic labs for the police.
The cash paid for both tenders, which started in the Moi era, were returned promptly after the scandal surfaced.
As a result, Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi declared it "the scandal that never was," sparking outcry and adding to the government's growing credibility crisis.
"Not a single minister has been held to account for corruption scandals in their ministries"
Reverend Mutava Musyimi,
National Council of Churches
Kibaki found his self-declared war on corruption at a nadir on 7 February when his top anti-corruption adviser John Githongo quit and months of public frustration boiled over.
Just five days before Githongo left out of what friends say was frustration, British High Commissioner Sir Edward Clay unleashed his latest salvo against the Kenyan government for failing to control "massive looting" in its ranks.
Corridors of power
Clay singled out defence and security procurements, swathed in secrecy, as the juiciest targets for the perpetrators of "grand corruption" inside or peripheral to the government.
Kibaki on Monday launched a cabinet reshuffle that critics called toothless, since the minister responsible for security only traded jobs with the transport minister. Only a few lower-level officials were fired.
"Not a single minister has been held to account for corruption scandals in their ministries. There should be one stringent standard for all public figures," said Reverend Mutava Musyimi, head of Kenya's influential National Council of Churches.
Donors and Kenyans have demanded Kibaki fire or suspend any top officials whose ministries are under investigation.
Wako also ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge one official the KACC had recommended for prosecution. He also urged the commission to try again to find a foreign company official to help clarify his role in the tenders.