More judicial intrigues in SportPesa row

Paul Ndung’u.

Former SportPesa chairman Paul Ndung’u.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The battle for the control of the multibillion-shilling SportPesa brand has taken another twist, after city tycoon Paul Ndung’u filed more supplementary affidavits to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) – this time alleging that somebody at the Judiciary was involved in “mischievous backdating of an application with an intention to concoct reasons” that were used to determine a case.

Mr Ndung’u has already filed a petition before JSC seeking the removal of the Mombasa-based Court of Appeal Judge Pauline Nyamweya over her handling of the SportPesa case when she served at the High Court.

The saga is part of a battle for the control of billions of shillings that are annually generated via the SportPesa platform, previously owned by Pevans East Africa, one of the most successful betting firms in Africa, and which had lost its betting platform to Milestone Games Ltd, which is run by SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri. It was during the court battles over the control of the platform that Mr Ndung’u claims that some records were falsified, which has now put the Judiciary on the spotlight.

In the new filing, Mr Ndung’u tells JSC that Justice Nyamweya had relied on materials whose dates had been backdated and which were cited in her ruling dated February 17, 2022 that found the Betting Control and Licensing Board guilty of contempt of court for failing to give Milestone Games Ltd a bookmarkers off-the-course licence to operate betting services using the SportPesa platform.

In her ruling, Justice Nyamweya had relied on an affidavit sworn on December 16, 2020 by Mr Bernard Chauro, Milestone Games’ general manager, which averred that the orders (to allow Milestone to continue operating) were issued on December 3, 2020 and served on Betting Control on December 4, 2020.

Mr Ndung’u now alleges that the court filing was done on December 3, 2020 according to court receipt records and as such there was no valid application dated December 2, 2020. The dates, he avers, are important since Mr Chauro told the court that he served the Betting Control with a court order on December 3.

“The court order given on the 3rd of December 2020 was issued on the 4th of December and it is intriguing that a court order issued on 4th of December could be served on 3rd of December,” says Mr Ndung’u, who owns 17 per cent shareholding of SportPesa.

The former SportPesa chairman is using this new information to show JSC that the judge used the “uncorroborated, perjured, and inaccurate and false word” of the general manager of the Milestone Games Ltd to reach her conclusion.

SportPesa was set up by Bulgarian operators in 2014 with the support of former Nairobi mayor Dick Wathika (now deceased), Mr Karauri, a businessman, and billionaire Paul Ndung’u, who was to provide initial capital. But a row over capital flight, tax arrears and shareholding led to the ouster of Mr Ndung’u, who is now fighting the loss of the SportPesa platform, the only asset available to the company.

BCLB had at first cancelled the betting licence in June 2019 but through a series of court triumphs, the betting company managed to transfer its SportPesa brand name to a new company, Milestone East Africa, which also uses the Pevans platform and short code numbers.

Mr Ndung’u now argues that the judge – by her rulings –  allowed Milestone Games to continue “their illegal, fraudulent and deceptive schemes with impunity to the detriment” of Pevans East Africa.

He accuses the judge of failing to take judicial notice that “the persons purporting to front the interests of Milestone Games Ltd were the same ones who had been adversely mentioned in illegal dealings and tax evasions”.

As a result, Mr Ndung’u says, “Milestone Games Ltd continues to conduct the business of online gaming and betting in Kenya, since the year 2020, using the SportPesa brand without renewing its off-the-course licence, but on the strength of the orders of” Justice Nyamweya, claim the petition papers.

The new supplementary filing to the JSC is an indicator that the battle for SportPesa might draw more into the murky waters.

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