Court battles continued to rock wealthy Kenyan families this year as children, lovers and spouses sought their share of multibillion-shilling property owned by departed tycoons.
The legal fights between siblings, co-wives and other would-be heirs range from claims of invalid and forged wills to disagreements on how the properties should be distributed.
The wealthy families embroiled in court fights include those of Nginyo Kariuki, the Rai family, James Kanyotu, John Kagema and former Machakos senator Boniface Kabaka.
The families of politician John Keen, former Nakuru North MP Kihika Kimani, businessman John Gichia and former Internal Security minister John Michuki were also locked in inheritance battles.
Also in the list are two sons of former Tetu MP Gethenji Marekia, who have been battling over the management and control of a Sh20 billion family estate in Kitisuru, Nairobi.
In the case of the late politician-cum-businessman Nginyo Kariuki, the Family Division of the High Court in August ordered a forensic audit of his estate valued at nearly Sh4 billion. The audit was backdated to February 2020, when Nginyo passed away.
Kariuki died on February 24, 2020, leaving behind vast investments in real estate, farming, bank deposits and government bonds, as well as a will that is being contested in court by three children he bore out of wedlock – Ms Brenda Nyambura, Mr Alex Ndoria and Mr Austine Wachira.
Ms Nyambura, a lawyer, wants the court to nullify her father’s will of June 13, 2014, which excluded her and the two other children born out of wedlock. She contends that the will is either a forgery or the author did not have free will at the time of its creation.
The wealth declared in the will is also being contested, prompting a petition for an investigator to unearth hidden assets, including suspected millions of shillings in undisclosed banks accounts.
“It is, therefore, impossible that the deceased would then make a will where he forgets or fails to remember that I am his biological daughter,” said Brenda.
Kariuki also had interests in several companies as well as money in I&M Bank, Consolidated Bank, Habib Bank and Equity Bank.
He was survived by his wife, Ms Margaret Wangari Nginyo and her six children – Ms Jane Wambui Kiragu, Mr James Anthony Kariuki, Ms Rose Wanjiru Kariuki, Ms Sarah Mukuhi Kariuki, Ms Scholastica Njeri Kariuki and Mr Silas Macharia Kariuki. The succession dispute is pending determination.
Also at the Family court in Milimani, Nairobi, is the fight for the control of the Rai family’s multibillion-shilling estate.
At the centre of the dispute is a will dated December 17, 1999, allegedly left behind by the family patriarch Tarlochan Singh Rai, who died on December 28, 2010 in Mumbai, India.
Jaswant Rai, the chairman of Rai Group, is the executor of the will.
The dispute pits two sons of the late tycoon, Mr Jasbir Singh Rai and Mr Iqbal Singh Rai, against Jaswant. The patriarch’s widow Sarjij Kaur Rai, died in January 2021 before the court’s determination of the validity of the will.
The widow had sided with Mr Jasbir and Mr Iqbal, who argue that the patriarch could have been coerced to craft the document that distributed his assets among his eight beneficiaries.
They are also challenging Jaswant’s push for the court’s permission to administer the multibillion-shilling business that has a presence across East Africa, Malawi, India and London.
Sarjij had started giving evidence before High Court judge Aggrey Muchelule before she died.
The court battle could offer Kenyans a peek into the wealth of the Rais, their financial dealings and the infighting that threatens to tear the family apart.
The family is believed to have had close ties with the ruling elite in the Moi, Kibaki and Kenyatta administrations.
The Rais have interests in cement production (Rai Cement), edible oils and soaps (Menengai Oil Refineries), sawmilling (Timsales, RaiPly and Webuye Panpaper), wheat farming, horticulture, sugar industry (West Kenya, which owns Kabras Sugar) and real estate (Tulip Properties).
The family of Kenyatta-era spy chief James Kanyotu is also in court over distribution of his multibillion-shilling estate.
Kanyotu died on February 13, 2008 without a will, sparking a high-stakes fight in the courts that involves three different households. The matter has passed through the hands of several judges since it was filed in 2008.
At the time of his death, the public was aware that Kanyotu had one wife, Mary, who bore him four children – Sandra, John, Stephen and Christopher.
But Ms Jane Gathoni, Ms Margaret Nyakinyua and Ms Mercy Mathenge claimed to have had relationships with the former intelligence chief.
A DNA test revealed that Kanyotu had nine children. The test ruled out that Mr Willy Kihara Njoki was Kanyotu’s son, but he challenged the results and requested that a new one be conducted.
Kanyotu’s empire, which is estimated at well over Sh20 billion, includes three investment companies: Half Moon, Full Moon and Cloud Limited.
He had shares in Barclays Bank, Sameer Group, Kenindia Assurance, Kentmere (1986) Ltd, Middle East Bank, Kenya Tea Development Agency KTDA), Kenya Melamine Manufacturers and Collindale Security.
He was also a shareholder in Acacia Court, Acacia Renovators, Pine Court, Sonara Kwakanja Ltd, Shylocks Ltd and Metropolitan Health.
The former spymaster also owned huge chunks of land and buildings in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Gilgil, South Nyanza, Kirinyaga and Nyandarua.
Another inheritance matter is that of reclusive billionaire John Mwangi Kagema, who died in December 2018 aged 73 and was survived by one spouse and four children.
The succession battle involves his widow Beatrice and three other women – Ms Leah Gechaga, Ms Serah Wanjiru and Ms Esther Njeri – who are also seeking a share of the estate of the founding CEO of Equity Building Society, now the Equity Bank.
At stake is the ownership of more than 22 companies, hundreds of acres of land across the country, vehicles and other possessions.
Kagema had shares in more than 21 top companies, including Johenson Kenya, Fone Solutions, Strategic Mobile Ltd, Lake Naivasha Holiday Inn, Enashipai Holiday Homes, Happy Den Motel and Enashipai Resort and Spa.
Others are Mwakawa Investments, Sundowner Park, Manyatta Ltd, Naivasha Coffee House, Mt Kenya Golf Resort, Mantex, Mines Mining, Dektah Holdings, Resolution Health, Safaricom, Equity Bank, Kenya Breweries, Kengen and Unaitas.
And two widows of former Machakos Senator Boniface Mutinda Kabaka, Ms Vascoline Katanu (with two children) and Ms Jeniffer Mueni (with three children), are yet to agree on who should be made the administrator of the departed patriarch’s vast estate.
The assets at the centre of the dispute include cash in banks and Bunge Sacco, as well as stakes in firms such as Bonavacantia Properties (K) Ltd, a real estate company where the lawmaker was the majority shareholder.
Senator Kabaka, who was also an advocate of the High Court, died intestate on December 11, 2020.
On the estate of politician John Keen, which is estimated to be worth Sh13 billion, High Court Aggrey Muchelule ordered five children of the late tycoon (two of whom are executors of his will) to file and serve a full and accurate inventory related to J Keen Investments Limited.
The order followed an application by one of the sons, Mr Edward Meitamei, seeking information on the assets and liabilities in the name of the late politician between the time of his death and March 8, 2021.
Mr Meitamei said he is a beneficiary of the estate having been given shares by Keen through a written will.
Keen died on December 25, 2016. He left a written will dated December 2, 2015 and appointed Supreme Court judge Isaac Lenaola, lawyer Maina Wachira and his children Rosemary Sanau and Pamela Soila as the executors of the will.
The executors petitioned the court on February 1, 2017 for the grant of probate of written will, which was issued on April 4, 2017. The grant has not been confirmed.
Keen left behind a polygamous family and a substantial estate. Justice Lenaola resigned as an executor while lawyer Maina Wachira has since passed on. This left Ms Sanau and Ms Soila as the executors of the will.
The family of former Nakuru North MP Kihika Kimani is also embroiled in a dispute over the distribution of his Sh600 million estate, 17 years after his death in 2004.
What started as a succession battle involving the firebrand Kanu politician's seven wives has spawned other criminal and civil suits at the Nakuru Law Courts.
The court named four of the widows — Ms Margaret Wambui Kihika, Ms Alice Mukuhi Kihika, Ms Mary Wangari Kihika and Ms Miriam Warau Kihika — as co-administrators of the estate in 2009.
The grant is, however, yet to be confirmed after the widows and their children failed to agree on the distribution.
And the children of former powerful Internal Security minister John Michuki are also in court, with his last-born daughter Yvonne Wanja Michuki, fighting her siblings since 2018 over alleged mismanagement of their father’s estate that has led to accumulation of debts to flagship businesses like the Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club.
The latest feud was in November this year, when Ms Wanja protested apparent development on a property adjacent to Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club.
Ms Wanja wrote to the Chinese contractor questioning why excavators were on site yet, she argued, a court order had stopped developments until the tussle over her late father’s estate was settled.
Mr Michuki died on February 12, 2012 while undergoing treatment at Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi. In his will, the former minister asked that half his estate be left to his wife and the rest to their six children.
But his wife, Josephine Watiru Michuki, also died on August 22, 2012. Ms Watiri, in her will, left her property to the children. This meant that all the family wealth was left to the six siblings.
In a similar case, two sons of former Tetu MP Gethenji Marekia, Mr Ndung’u Gethenji and Mr Fredrick Gitahi, are embroiled in a bitter dispute over the management and control of a Sh20 billion family estate known as Kihingo Village (Waridi Gardens).
The case has since escalated to the Court of Appeal after Mr Ndung’u, who is also a former MP, lost an attempt to regain control of the estate that is now managed by his brother Gitahi and other shareholders.
The High Court declared that Mr Ndung’u had no powers to take over management of a company known as Kihingo Village (Waridi Gardens) Management One Limited, which manages the estate.
The High Court had also declared that he had no powers to appoint a director without the authority of the shareholders and the homeowners.
The assets of the late businessman John Gichia are also at the centre of a court dispute involving his son Adam and his (the late Gichia’s) father, business mogul Samuel Kamau (SK) Macharia. Gichia died in a road accident in 2018, leaving behind an estate estimated to be worth Sh1.2 billion.
The estate comprises shares and interests in more than six trading companies, including Serenity Media Productions Ltd, Big Five Conservancy, Bushfire Media Distributors, Toi Redevelopment and Harbour Capital Ltd.
Other properties include two Range Rovers, a Land rover, Jaguar, Jeep, Porsche 911, BMW, trailer and Land Rover Discovery, four motorbikes and five residential houses in Nanyuki, Loresho, Kyuna Crescent, Kibarage, and Mugumo Crescent. Adam resides in the Loresho house.
The registered owner of the properties is AKM Investments Ltd. Adam says the name of the company – AKM investments – was borrowed from initials of his name Adam Kamau Macharia.
Gichia was the executive director of Directline Assurance Company Ltd and Adam occasionally worked there during school holidays.
Adam says he is aware Directline has 15 million shares distributed among 10 shareholders. Janus Ltd, Sureinvest Company and Stenny Investments PTY Ltd hold three million shares each, calculated to be 20 per cent each.
Other shareholders are Triad Networks (2,999,407 shares), AKM Investment (1,551,000), Royal Media Services (1,448,593) and Royal Credit Card (997). Dan Karobia, Purity Gathoni Macharia and Samuel Kamau Macharia hold one share each, translating to 0.0 per cent of the shares.
Adam argues that his grandfather is a financially stable man who was not a dependant of the estate.
However, Mr Macharia told the court that Adam has made mistakes, including acting on incompetent advice.