A petition has been filed before the Judicial Service Commission seeking the removal of Court of Appeal judge Justice Pauline Nyamweya over her handling of the Sportpesa case when she served at the High Court.
The petition is filed by former Sportpesa Chairman Paul Ndung’u, who has been fighting in courts over the shareholding of Pevans East Africa, which owned the Sportpesa brand that is now in the hands of a new company, Milesstone Games Limited.
SportPesa was established by Bulgarian operators in 2014 with the support of former Nairobi Mayor Dick Wathika, businessman Ronald Karauri and Mr Ndung'u — a billionaire who was to provide initial capital. But a row over capital flight, tax arrears and shareholding led to the ouster of Mr Ndung’u, who owns 17 per cent of the company.
The Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) had cancelled the betting licence in June 2019 but, through a series of court triumphs, Pevans East Africa managed to transfer Sportpesa to Milestone East Africa, which also uses the Pevans platform and short code numbers.
Mr Ndungu now argues that the judge — through her rulings — has allowed Milestone Games to continue “their illegal, fraudulent and deceptive schemes with impunity to the detriment” of Pevans East Africa.
He accuses the judge of failing to take judicial notice that “the persons purporting to front the interests of Milestone Games Limited were the same ones who had been adversely mentioned in illegal dealings and tax evasions.”
It is also alleged that the judge failed to acquaint herself with the provisions of the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act and “the law underpinning the licensing regime of betting companies.”
As a result, Mr Ndung’u says, “Milestone Games Limited continues to conduct the business of online gaming and betting in Kenya, since the year 2020, using the Sportpesa brand without renewing its off-the-course licence, but on the strength of the orders of” Justice Nyamweya, claims the petition papers.
More so, the petitioner alleges that the directors of Milestone Games “have been granted absolute immunity from prosecution in spite of the fact that their actions are openly illegal and fraudulent.”
While the government deported the foreign shareholders of Sportpesa, Nikolov Guerassim and Gene Grand, Mr Ndung’u in his petition claims that they are now using Milestone Games Limited as a proxy while the local shareholders of Sportpesa have been left out after the loss of the Sportpesa brand.
Mr Ndungu claims that, through the action of Justice Nyamweya in two separate cases , Pevans East Africa was “fraudulently, illegally and irregularly” dispossessed of its core assets namely the Sportpesa brand name and trademark, the Uniform Resource Locaters, the short code number and the paybill numbers.
He claims that this was carried out by Milestone Games East Africa whose director is also the Chief Executive Officer of Pevans East Africa.
In the petition also, it is alleged that Justice Nyamweya “tried to arm-twist BCLB to issue a licence to Milestone Games through threats of imprisonment in the ruling dated February 17, 2022 and that she allowed an application for contempt of court “that was wrongly before her…brought without due compliance with Contempt of Court Act and Common Law rules.”
And, because of the court orders, Mr Ndungu is alleging that the directors and shareholders of Milestone Games are still exploiting the core assets of Sportspesa and have not been subjected to scrutiny by the betting board.
By going to the Judicial Service Commission, Mr Ndungu adds yet another twist on the fate of Kenya’s largest gaming company which had been targeted by Kenya Revenue Authority over tax arrears and had problems with the government over its gambling practices.
According to the law, the judge of a superior court can be removed from office on the grounds of a breach of a code of conduct prescribed for judges of the superior courts, incompetence and gross misconduct. Once a petition has been lodged with JSC, the Commission “if it is satisfied that the petition discloses a ground for removal shall send the petition to the President who within 14 days is supposed to suspend the judge and appoint a tribunal.