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Jailed Thika couple and lucrative land deal with Kenblest heir

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Pacifica and her husband Jeremiah Ndege during a past family function in Thika. The two were jailed on June 3, 2024 for forgery related to a 10-acre land in Thika.

Pacifica Ndege and her husband Jeremiah Ndege thought their fortunes were about to change when they sold 10 acres in Thika to Vikesh Jinit Shah.

The couple, through their Arrowland Consultants, had applied for allocation of the land from Thika Municipality and were issued with a letter of allotment on September 1, 2011.

Mr Shah did his due diligence through Gathoga Wairegi & Company Advocates and purchased the land from the Ndeges. 

Mr Shah, a member of the family that owns Kenblest Group, applied for development permits at Thika Municipality and later Kiambu County. One of the applications went before the Thika Municipality planning committee, in which then Councillor Elizabeth Muthoni Hussein sat.

Ms Hussein went on to serve as MCA for Kamenu ward in Thika, Kiambu County, between 2013 and 2017.

Last Monday, senior resident magistrate Fredrick Koome condemned the Ndeges to a three-year jail term after holding that Ms Hussein is the legitimate owner of the land, and that the elderly couple forged ownership documents before transferring the prime property to Mr Shah.

Court papers seen by Nation.Africa tell a long, convoluted and curious story which could end with the couple spending three years in prison, as Mr Koome did not offer them an option of a fine or parole.

On February 26, 2018, Ms Hussein filed a civil suit against Mr Shah, seeking to have his title deed cancelled in favour of hers. 

Ms Hussein claimed she was allocated the land on October 4, 2016. She also filed an application seeking Mr Shah’s eviction from the land.

She added that a year earlier, while still serving as Kamenu MCA, her house burned down and some crucial documents showing the history of her acquisition of the disputed property were destroyed.

Ms Hussein asked the High Court in Thika to evict Mr Shah and allow the demolition of developments the Kenblest Group heir had started putting up on the property.

Mr Shah responded to the suit, filing several documents detailing how he purchased the land from the Ndeges before developing it. Mr Shah listed all government officials and offices he had visited in his development quest.

The businessman added that the Ndeges’ title deed was registered first hence looked more likely to be genuine.

Justice Lucy Gacheru on December 10, 2018, declined to grant Ms Hussein any temporary reliefs.

The judge held that until evidence is put forward to show that the title deed held by the Ndeges and transferred to Mr Shah was forged, it would be impossible to issue such orders as an interim measure. 

“Therefore, the Court finds that even if the plaintiff/applicant (Ms Hussein) has a title deed in her favour over the suit property, the defendant/respondent (Mr Shah) too has a title deed over the same property which was issued earlier and evidence has to be called at the main trial to determine which one of the title herein is genuine.

Further, it is evident that the plaintiff/applicant (Ms Hussein) has never been in possession of the suit property and there would be certainly no injury or damages that would be occasioned to her if injunctive orders are not granted,” Justice Gacheru ruled.

One month later, Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officers arrested the Ndeges on allegations of forging signatures of lands officials. The DCI insisted that their ownership documents were forged. 

In court, prosecutors presented former commissioner of lands Zablon Mabea and other government officials as witnesses. They include Peter Kangethe Kahuhu, Benard Ngetich and Fedson Nyangaka Orare.

Other prosecution witnesses were document examiners Mariam Kemunto and James Mutuma, and investigator Kennedy Lumbebe.

The Ndeges hired Albert Makori to represent them in the suit. The elderly couple now regret that decision, as they claim that the advocate bungled the case.

During trial, the Ndeges failed to call any witnesses, other than themselves, to debunk the prosecutors’ forgery claims.

Some of the documents that the couple failed to produce in their defence also became the backbone of their conviction. The land registrar who issued the certificate of lease in the Ndeges’ favour did not record a statement.

Mr Lumbebe, one of the investigators, told the court that the Lands official who issued the document to the Ndeges refused to record a statement.

In a complaint against Mr Makori before the Advocates Complaints Commission, the Ndeges now say that they paid the advocate Sh150,000 to cater for logistics of bringing several witnesses in court.

The Ndeges say that Mr Makori had quoted the figure to ensure he could present document examiner Emmanuel Kenga, Mr Shah who purchased the land from the couple, Ndungu Kimani and Joseph Gathoga – the lawyers Mr Shah hired for the transaction.

But they claim Mr Makori failed to approach these witnesses.

“Aware of his professional duty, the advocate went ahead and closed the defence case without calling any witness as agreed and we reasonably believe that this conduct amounts to professional negligence and a wider scheme to prejudice the accused persons’ rights to fair trial and representation,” the Ndeges say in their complaint before the Advocates Complaints Commission.

The couple claims Mr Makori missed several court dates.

Mr Makori was absent even on April 30, 2024, when magistrate Koome delivered his guilty verdict.

“Phone calls made to him by his clients as well as several relatives went unanswered. He refused to pick up calls over the following few days as relatives sought him to provide legal advice and the next steps upon the arrest of the second co-accused (Mrs Ndege). Mr Makori resurfaced a few days later after the judgement was delivered without his presence and in the absence of the first accused (Mr Jeremiah Ndege), stating that he was too shocked by the judgement to communicate earlier,” the Ndeges say in their complaint.

As all prosecution witnesses insisted that the Ndeges’ ownership documents were fakes, and the couple itself failed to bring any witnesses to challenge those assertions, magistrate Koome held that the prosecution had proved its case on all four forgery charges.

Worse for the Ndeges was that some of former Lands ministry officials whose signatures appeared on the documents, like Mr Mabea and Mr Kahuhu, disowned the papers.

“The certificate of lease issued to Arrowland Consultants was not accompanied by crucial documents such as green card and the white card… As I have established, the prosecution has adequately tendered evidence to the required standard… I therefore convict all the accused persons of all the counts under section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Code,” magistrate Koome said when convicting the couple.

The couple is already in custody, even as it mulls appealing the conviction and sentence.