Nairobi - Kenyan prosecutors have ordered an investigation into the murder of a witness in the International Criminal Court trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who is accused of masterminding post-election killings in 2007.
Meshack Yebei, described by Ruto's lawyer as a "critical" witness for the politician's defence case, was found dead - and badly mutilated according to some reports - on 4 January in western Kenya's Nandi district.
Kenya's Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko ordered the probe in a letter to police seen by AFP. The order calls for a "speedy and thorough investigation to be conducted into the murder with a view of bringing those responsible to justice."
Yebei disappeared on 28 December and a week later the local businessman's decomposed body was discovered in a river.
Matter of grave concern
Ruto has been on trial at The Hague-based ICC since September 2013 on charges of organising post-election violence in the east African country in 2007-2008. More than 1 200 people died and 600 000 were displaced in the chaos.
But both Ruto and co-defendant Joshua Arap Sang, a radio presenter, have denied all charges.
Ruto's lawyer, Karim Khan, said in a letter seen by AFP that Yebei was a "critical witness to the defence" and had been referred to the ICC witness protection unit.
He added that "news of his apparent abduction and murder is both shocking to us and a matter of grave concern".
Khan also called for DNA tests to confirm the identity of the corpse, saying it was "important for us that the facts and circumstances of his alleged killing be fully investigated".
Kenya's ICC investigations have been littered with allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony.
Charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta were dropped last month after the ICC prosecutor was ordered to strengthen or abandon the case.
Kenyatta maintained his innocence throughout and reacted by saying his conscience was "absolutely clear" regarding the post-election killings, the worst in Kenya's history since winning independence from Britain in 1963.