Ex-spy Kanyotu’s widows win 200-acre Naivasha land case

James Kanyotu

The late James Kanyotu.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Two families were tussling over the prime 232.5-acres under large-scale horticulture and hotels.
  • The land under large-scale horticultural farming hosts hotels run by the family of the former spymaster. 

A prominent man dies, leaving behind three widows. He had a co-administrator to his properties. Upon the death, the co-administrator takes control of the properties, to the widows’ chagrin.

The administrator dies and his wife takes over. The widows sue to evict the administrator’s wife.

That is how, thanks to a recent judgement, three widows of former spy master James Kanyotu succeeded in edging out Ruth Muthoni Iganjo, the widow of Francis Iganjo Mutahi – a former administrator of two properties totalling 232.5-acres in Naivasha.

The widows are Ms Mary Wanjiku, Ms Jane Gathoni and Ms Margaret Nyakinyua. Their late husband was a powerful Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in both Jomo Kenyatta’s and Daniel Moi’s administrations.

With the widows proving greed and fraud against their rival, the court fined the estate of the former administrator Sh1 million, and permanently blocked the administrator’s widow and her children from ever setting foot on the properties.

Justice Loice Komingoi directed the administrator’s servants and agents to vacate the land within 120 days from September 21, 2023, failure to which, Kamuta Limited – a company founded by Mr Kanyotu – will be at liberty to use lawful means to evict them. The officer commanding the Naivasha Police Station was also ordered to ensure compliance. 

The judge also ordered the former administrators to provide a comprehensive account of the income derived from the two properties during their occupation and hand over the said income to Kamuta Limited. 

They were directed to produce and show to the court the books of accounts, share certificates and records of the company, and to account for all the monies, records or assets of the company in their possession. The former administrator will also foot the costs of the suit.

The 232.5-acre parcel under large-scale horticultural farming hosts hotels run by the family of the former spymaster. It has a main house, a cottage and a catering establishment – Sakata – that is a rent-paying client. The property is also used as a landing bay for boats used in fishing by tourists visiting Lake Naivasha.

The Kanyotu widows proved to the court that the administrator had leased the property to third parties from who he would collect rent and pocket it without the consent of their late husband’s firm, Kamuta Limited.

Mr Kanyotu co-owned the property with the late Mwangi Stephen Muriithi through Kamuta Limited, which the duo incorporated in 1976.

Mr Kanyotu and Mr Muriithi were in formal employment and decided to bring in Mr Mutahi as the farm manager. To that effect, it was agreed that Mr Mutahi could occupy and reside in a portion of the said properties with his family and he was moved from Kinangop to Naivasha by Mr Kanyotu.

However, things took a different turn after Mr Kanyotu’s demise in 2008. Earlier in 2003, the Goldenberg Inquiry formed by former President Mwai Kibaki to probe the infamous scandal, had recommended the prosecution of Mr Kanyotu and other top government officials, among them billionaire Kamlesh Pattni, former Treasury PS, the late Dr Wilfred Koinange and former Central Bank of Kenya deputy governor the late Eliphaz Riungu.

It was at this time that Mr Mutahi’s family assumed “ownership” of the farm when all through, he had been managing it, collecting revenue from leases and hotel operations and depositing the monies in the company’s bank accounts. 

In a case filed in 2014 before the Environment and Land Court in Nairobi, Mr Mutahi’s family claimed that upon his demise in 2000, they applied for letters of administration and sought from the Registrar of Companies confirmation of the status of Kamuta Limited. In response, the registrar indicated in a letter dated January 29, 2002 that Mr Mutahi had ceased being a shareholder, according to a notice of change of directors on October 4, 2000. 

A bone of contention before the court were 98 shares that Mr Kanyotu purportedly held in Kamuta Limited while the late Mutahi and the late Muriithi had one share each. Ms Iganjo noted that even though her husband’s name was missing from the mortgage form signed in 1985 by Mr Kanyotu and Mr Muriithi, he was an equal shareholder.

She further noted that by 2003, when apparently Kanyotu’s shares were increased to 98, her husband had already passed on, and that the increment was fraudulent. That, her children were on the suit property growing crops and running the hotel, cottages, houses, camp hotels and greenhouses, and confirmed that those proceeds did not go to Kamuta but to themselves.

A forensic document examiner from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations said in court that there were discrepancies identified in Kamuta Limited documents such as use of postal codes in some documents for the early 1990s while it came into existence in 2002. He also stated that some documents had, between 1998 and 2003, been altered using different typewriters, and that some company returns bore different dates.

On December 18, 2015, Mr Muriithi testified that he had incorporated Kamuta Limited, with Kanyotu each of them holding one share, and that Mutahi was Kanyotu’s farm manager at his Ol-Banata farm in Nakuru which he co-owned with the late President Daniel arap Moi.

Mr Muriithi, a former Air Force officer, further informed the court that between May 1, 1982 and September 1985, he was in detention following the aborted 1982 military coup, and was not involved in the management of the company.

He said he had given authority to his then lawyer, Dr John Khaminwa, to continue the management and running of his companies. But, Mr Kanyotu wielded a gun at the veteran lawyer during a meeting which made the former to flee for his life and never attend any other meeting over Kamuta Limited.

The court also heard that he had a fallout with Mr Kanyotu, and that the last time they spoke was in 1981 before he was sacked from the plum job. Mr Muriithi informed the court that the allegation that there was a meeting where Mr Kanyotu was allocated 98 shares was incorrect, noting that the late Kanyotu and himself held one share each in Kamuta Limited.

He testified that he was aware that Mr Mutahi’s family had trespassed into the vast land as they were running it as their personal property, and that Mr Kanyotu had made it clear that he did not want them in the farm.

He again mentioned that in 2013, he had been given the firm’s documents and other information that had been kept away from him — including the fact that Mr Mutahi was claiming to be a shareholder by Mr Kanyotu’s lawyer.

Mr Muriithi said that, following the Mr Kanyotu’s demise, Zachariah Ngugi was appointed as the company secretary and Gitonga Mwangi Muriithi as the director. That Kanyotu’s one share in the company was intact and that he was not aware that Mr Mutahi was Mr Kanyotu’s nominee.

Justice Komingoi struck out the administrator’s widow’s case because the court lacked power to determine the question of shareholding.