A Kenyan court has charged two senior government officials with fraud over land allocation for a new rail line worth $3bn linking Nairobi with Mombasa, East Africa’s biggest port.

Funded by the Chinese Government, the railway is one of the biggest infrastructure projects launched by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and was planned to ultimately connect South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean.

The railway forms part of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ scheme, which features a series of infrastructure projects to improve land and maritime routes between China and Europe, Asia and Africa.

President Kenyatta officially inaugurated the railway in May 2017, praising it for representing a new chapter in the state’s history.

However, despite being completed 18 months early, the project has been struggling to find success after being marred by corruption allegations and registering a loss of $100m in its first year of operation.

The project was also criticised by economists, who claim it only contributed to increasing Kenya’s debt, which is estimated to be at 54%-55% of economic output. Wildlife groups also hit out at the railway as it runs through the Nairobi National Park and Tsavo National Park in south-eastern Kenya.

An investigation into the project launched earlier this year further fuelled the fraud allegations and revealed that officials have paid over $2m in compensation to private firms that falsely claimed to have owned part of the land crossed by the railway line.

During a court hearing on Monday, National Land Commission chairman Mohammed Abdalla Swazuri, Kenya Railways Corporation managing director Atanas Kariuki Maina and 16 other businesspeople and companies pledged not guilty to the charges. The prosecutor’s office said that no Chinese companies have been involved in the case.

According to local media outlet Citizen Kenya, the prosecutor said: “The acts of accused persons put together was done in a systematic way. We are opposed to their release on bail.”