Westlands eviction: Relief as land records reveal couple as owners of house

Demolished house

Mr Niraj Shah and his wife Avani Shah on November 8, 2022, walk on what remains of their home on School Lane in Westlands after a gang evicted them and demolished their house.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

It was a sigh of relief on Thursday for a couple whose Westlands property was demolished last November, after government records showed the land belongs to their father, Batuk Shah.

David Nyandoro, the senior assistant to the chief land registrar, told the Nairobi County Assembly Planning Committee, that rogue officials at the Lands ministry had almost successfully erased all of the property’s records but accidentally spared crucial information.

The committee is investigating the controversial eviction of Mr Niraj Shah and his wife, Avani, from their property in Westlands, Nairobi.

The crucial information Mr Nyandoro cited was in a separate file - details of the property, including the land reference number. Mr Shah’s property was registered under title deed number IR250040.

The officials, who were seemingly after Mr Shah’s land details, mistakenly tore off the land reference details belonging to another property.

According to Mr Nyandoro, the land records belonging to Mr Shah’s property were also partly torn, a clear sign that someone at the ministry unsuccessfully tried to erase the records.

“We can see a series of alterations where they tore across the page but forgot that this land reference number was located on the top of the paper. So I believe that in realising that someone was now trying to insert certain information to suit circumstances but they failed,” Mr Nyandoro told the committee.

Mr Nyandoro also tabled before the committee a forged title deed that indicated that the property belonged to Lariak Properties Ltd.

The forged title deed indicated that the property was registered under a different title deed, number IR250041, and that it belonged to one Samuel Chepkwony.

The registrar of companies lists Mr Chepkwony and three others - Nathaniel Kipkemboi, John Rotich and Joel Kiplang’at - as the owners of Lariak Properties.

Officials of Lariak Properties, in the forged document, said they had bought the land in 2010, for a period of 99 years.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), which is investigating the matter, had written a letter to the Lands ministry seeking to check the authenticity of the title deed. The ministry stamped it as forged.

Interestingly, the forged title deed indicates that it has been registered under land reference number LR1870/III/46, the same reference number as that of Mr Shah’s property.

“We used the scanned images with the details of the property because the actual files about the property disappeared from the ministry. Somebody had tried to interfere with the register to bring in other information but was not able to change the land reference number. It was then that they also went ahead to tear files with information relating to the land reference but  tore the wrong ones,” Mr Nyandoro said.

During this time, officials in Nairobi’s ICT department also fraudulently changed the details of Mr Batuk Shah, Niraj’s father, to two individuals by the names James Wambugu Gichuki and Samuel Mbugua Kariuki.

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), through its ICT manager who currently handles the land rate details for Nairobi County, was put to task by the committee to name ICT officials at the county who might have changed the land records.

Mr Andrew Wamae said the ICT department at the county has information on the senior ICT officials who carried out the changes.

“When we took over in 2020, the system did not have an audit trail so we cannot exactly tell who made the changes. The ICT department in the county should provide that information because they were handling the system in 2014,” Mr Wamae told the committee.

Officials from the ICT department who were expected to appear before the committee gave the meeting a wide berth.

Committee chair Alvin Orlando, who is also Kitusuru MCA, said they will plan an urgent meeting of KRA officials and the ICT department, to show the audit trail so as to know the officials who carried out the changes.

“We want to know who carried out the changes. We doubt that some officials from the ICT department are trying to interfere and prevent us from knowing who carried out the changes. We want the KRA to come and open the system and know the people who carried out the changes,” Mr Orlando told journalists.

Mr Shah and his wife, who appeared relieved following the presentation, said the family will begin reconstructing the property’s records.

“Up until yesterday we did not know who owns the property because there are several people claiming ownership. We thank the official from the Lands ministry for having the details that indicate the property belongs to us,” Mr Shah said.