'I won't refund': Woman sued over Sh7m terror attack compensation

An aerial view of the US Embassy in Nairobi following the bombing on August 7, 1998. 

Photo credit: File | Reuters

A US-based fund that was tasked with compensating victims of the 1998 terror attack in Nairobi has sued a woman who erroneously received millions of shillings which she allegedly refused to refund.

The 1998 United States Embassy Bombing Qualified Fund has asked the High Court to issue a refund order against Mary Ngunyi Muiruri, who received $65,683.50 (Sh7.4 million) in November 2020.

The fund intended to pay Mary Njoki Muiruri the money, but a mix up in middle names saw the wrong individual receiving the money.

Ms Ngunyi has not responded to the suit.

The 1998 United States Embassy Bombing Qualified Fund enjoined a local lender in the suit seeking to have it ordered to refund the sums.

The fund had asked the local bank to refund the money.

The Nairobi bank, however, said Ms Ngunyi refused to consent to the reversal request, presenting a legal challenge for the lender.

The bank adds that correspondence between the 1998 United States Embassy Bombing Qualified Fund and Ngunyi indicated that there was a dispute as to who was the genuine recipient of the Sh7.4 million.

Ms Ngunyi had insisted that the funds were hers.

The bank adds that Ms Ngunyi has spent most of the funds.

By the time the 1998 United States Embassy Bombing Qualified Fund obtained court orders to freeze Ngunyi’s account in February 2021, Ms Ngunyi had withdrawn most of the funds and had only $5,553 (Sh633,319) as bank balance.

The bank argues in court papers that it was not a party to the court cases in the US over compensation of terror attack victims and could therefore not authoritatively ascertain who was the genuine recipient of the money.

Several Kenyans filed cases before US courts against the Republics of Sudan and Iran between 2008 and 2012 seeking compensation for injuries and loss of relatives in the August, 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi.

In 2014, a US court ordered that victims of the attacks that had sued be awarded $907 million (Sh103 billion).

Epiq Systems Inc, a US-registered consultancy, was hired to coordinate distribution of the court-ordered awards. The consultancy helped register the The 1998 United States Embassy Bombing Qualified Fund, which would hold the funds pending distribution.

While Ms Ngunyi is also a victim of the 1998 terror attack, her case against the Republics of Sudan and Iran are still pending determination in the US courts.

Mr Charles Marr, an employee of Epiq Systems and the 1998 United States Embassy Bombing Qualified Fund project coordinator, says in court papers that the mix-up in names was done by MM Law, the law firm that filed suits on behalf of the terror attack victims.

“MM Law’s error occurred as a result of the close similarity between the first defendant’s name and the intended lawful beneficiary. Except for their middle names, the first defendant and the intended lawful beneficiary have exactly similar names as they appear in MM Law’s database/records. Based on the explanation provided I verily believe that MM Law made a genuine mistake and error,” Mr Marr says in court papers.

Court records indicate that Ms Ngunyi withdrew the funds by writing nine cheques between November, 2020 and January, 2021.

Ms Julie Soweto, the lawyer representing the 1998 United States Embassy Bombing Qualified Fund, has asked the High Court to issue a summary judgment against Ms Ngunyi and the local bank.

The fund insists that the local bank should have frozen the funds and should, therefore, be found culpable alongside Ms Ngunyi.

The local lender, however, says that Ms Ngunyi’s failure to respond to the court case cannot be a reason to punish the bank, which has an arguable case.

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