The Court of Appeal has been tasked with determining whether the government should pay damages to victims of land fraud holding invalid title deeds that were transferred to them through the Ministry of Land.
The basis of the suit is that since the government is the sole custodian and repository of clean land records, it should have an obligation to compensate victims of falsified land ownership documents.
Thus, when a land purchaser is issued with a title deed that turns out to be invalid or fake, due to malpractices such as fraud, forgery, and misrepresentations, he ought to be compensated for the loss.
The monumental suit aims to hold the government responsible for the loss suffered by land buyers conned by fraudsters, who use fake documents to transact and impersonate the real property owners.
In addition, the suit seeks to hold the government liable for any inaccuracy in the land register. Should the case sail through, the government is staring at claims worth billions of shillings from the high number of fraud cases in the sector.
The appellate judges will determine whether a person deprived of land or any interest in land as a consequence of fraud is entitled to compensation by the government besides the recovery of damages from the fraudster.
The appeal was lodged by a victim of land fraud, Mark Lecchini, who was swindled Sh8 million in 2000 in a transaction involving a piece of land in Muthaiga, Nairobi.
The seller was a fraudster, who also issued him with a fake title deed that the land registrar failed to detect. He was also presented with a fake certificate and a deed plan.
Mr Lecchini moved to the appellate court after the High Court (Environment and Land Court) dismissed his claim on grounds that he was not entitled to the special damages claimed.
He wanted to be paid Sh150 million being the value of the suit property at the time of hearing the case in 2018 plus special damages of Sh80 million for the loss he suffered as a result of the cancellation of his title.
The land belonged to the son of the late billionaire Tarlochan Singh Rai, Mr Iqbal Singh Rai, who had acquired the property in 1988.
In his court papers, Mr Lecchini narrates that by an agreement of sale dated May 29, 2000, he purchased the parcel from a man posing as Mr Rai at a consideration of Sh8 million.
He paid the full purchase price through his sdvocates after which the property was transferred to him.
He took possession of the property and started fencing. To evict Mr Lecchini, the real Rai filed a case in court to assert his right over ownership of the property.
In the transaction, the fake Rai appointed an agent named Mr Fred Waithaka to represent him in the sale of the property.
Mr Waithaka was later arrested and convicted to two years in prison for fraud by obtaining money from Mr Lecchini through false pretense.