What you need to know:
- JM had invested extensively in huge tracts of land, real estate, and bought shares in various companies, hotels, large-scale farming and beer distribution, among others
- At the time of his death, the Law of Succession Act had not come into effect
After nearly four decades since his remains were found in a thicket in Ngong Hills, the family of flamboyant politician JM Kariuki can now breathe a sigh of relief after the court started the process of distributing his multi-million-shilling estate to the beneficiaries.
The process, which opened this week before the High Court Family Division principal judge Luka Kimaru, is the final phase to close the succession dispute that has remained unresolved for 28 years.
Born Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, the flashy former Nyandarua North MP whose mutilated body was found on March 2, 1975 after he was reported to have gone missing, had built a business empire so huge that it would be the envy of the current crop of Kenyan billionaires. His supposed assassination remains one of the most high-profile in Kenya — alongside that of Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and Robert Ouko.
Commonly referred to as JM, the politician had invested extensively in huge tracts of land, real estate, and bought shares in various companies, hotels, large-scale farming and beer distribution, among others.
And because Mr Kariuki died without a valid will, his three widows — Doris Nyambura, Esther Mwikali and Terry Wanjiku — and their eight children moved to court in 1985 seeking orders to have the vast estate distributed to the beneficiaries.
At the time of his death, the Law of Succession Act had not come into effect and, therefore, the distribution of the estate was subject to written laws and customs applying at the date of his death. The Succession Law came into force on July 1, 1981.
Before the case was taken over by Justice Kimaru, it had previously been handled by Justice Erastus Githinji, Lady Justice Kalpana Rawal and Justice GBM Kariuki.
Justice Rawal was later appointed Deputy Chief Justice while Justice Githinji and Justice Kariuki were elevated to the Court of Appeal.
The delay in sub-dividing the properties has been caused by accusations and counter-accusations among the widows, who are joint administrators of the estate.
From the onset, the court affirmed that Mr Kariuki was survived by three wives and eight children who became ultimate beneficiaries.
An assertion made in the submissions by Doris that she was the only wife of the deceased was rejected by Justice Githinji during the earlier proceedings.
“Since 1988, the issue of Terry and Esther not being co-widows has never been raised and cannot be allowed to in the submissions by Doris. I reject the averments,” ruled Justice Githinji.
After she was accused of illegally collecting rent from a house on Ngong Road, Terry defended herself saying she owned 50 per cent of the property, and it was her matrimonial home.
She argued that the property was acquired through a mortgage in 1973. After the death of her husband two years later, she claimed the bank threatened to sell the house but she cleared the loan from her own resources.
Similarly, in previous court proceedings, Doris and Esther were accused of illegally collecting rent from the Castle Inn property without accounting for the income. The two co-widows and their children were said to be occupying two cottages without paying rent to the estate.
Doris was again faulted for receiving Sh2.3 million from a tenant through an unregistered company described as JM Kariuki’s Estate Investment. She was said to have given a Mr Mwaniki, who she purported to be her son, a 1.2 acre plot at Castle Inn without the knowledge of the co-administrators.
A proposal was made to have all the shares belonging to the estate divided among the three wives or sold and the proceeds divided equally to the beneficiaries.
Save for Doris, the co-widows consented to a proposal to allocate Mr Kariuki’s mother, Priscilla Wanjiku Ngugu, 100 acres, and her daughter Grace Wangui 20 acres from the 808-acre Riverside Farm in Ol Kalou. Another 50 acres was to be set aside for community service and 20 acres to squatters and the late politician’s ex-workers.
On May 28, 1996, Justice Githinji ordered the entire estate of Mr Kariuki to be placed in the hands of the administrators, and stopped payment of debts and the distribution of the properties.
The judge further ordered the shares originally registered in the name of Mr Kariuki to be transferred to Doris, Esther and Terry after they were duly appointed joint administrators.
The administrators were directed to open an account of the estate to be named “Estate Of Late Josiah Mwangi Kariuki” in a bank of their choice.
The judge allowed the administrators to dispose of 300 acres in Gilgil Farm to clear a debt of Sh8 million the estate owed Kenya Commercial Bank. However, he observed that if the sale of the land was impracticable, the administrators should agree to sell Castle Inn, but on the terms approved by the court.
In the course of the court proceedings and after a series of unsuccessful attempts to reach a settlement, the widows invited the former Nyeri MP Waruru Kanja, who died last December, to chair a meeting in Nairobi on December 10, 2001 and formulate a method of distributing the estate.
Mr Kanja was held in high esteem by Mr Kariuki’s family and was seen as an independent arbiter.
He proposed that Castle Inn, valued at Sh30 million, be registered in the joint names of Doris and Esther. The two were to hold the property for the benefit of their children.
The other widow, Terry, was allocated land along Ngong Road, Nairobi, valued at Sh35 million, for the benefit of her daughter.
On the 808 acres Riverside Farm in Ol Kalou, Mr Kanja gave the three widows 77 acres each and 59 acres each to the sons. The daughters were allocated 25 acres each.
At least 12 acres, according to court records, were set aside to clear debts. In addition, Doris and Esther were given an extra 10 acres and two residential houses in the farm.
The widows were also each allocated 20 acres from Kanyamwi Trading Company in Gilgil which owns the 200-acre farm where Mr Kariuki was laid to rest. The sons and daughters were also allocated land. At least 18 acres were given to squatters and 12 acres set aside for family use.
The family affirmed to the proposal to sell all the shares in various companies and dividends invested in the estate account and were urged to use the funds to pay the legal charges and the balance to be shared among the 11 beneficiaries.
After various proposals were tabled, Justice Rawal ruled on December 8, 2009 that Terry would keep her matrimonial house in Ngong Road and equally share the Castle Inn property with Esther considering that Doris had meddled with the property.
Justice Rawal also directed the estate administrators to allocate Mr Kariuki’s mother and sister 240 acres from Riverside Farm in Ol Kalou after which they would decide on how to sub-divide the portion to the other groups, including the squatters and ex-workers.
Consequently, the judge allocated the remainder of the land to Terry (250 acres), Esther (250 acres) and Doris (118 acres) and ordered that a commercial building in Ol Kalou township be divided equally among the three widows.
The distribution exercise now before Justice Kimaru is being guided by the earlier proposals made by the family members and previous court rulings by the other two judges.