The family of former spymaster James Kanyotu and Goldenberg scam architect Kamlesh Pattni are fighting over the ownership of a 500-acre parcel of land in Thika town estimated to be worth Sh10 billion.
Marriot Africa International Ltd says it bought the prime property from Trendsetters Investments Ltd, who purchased it from Kangaita Coffee Estate Ltd – a firm associated with the Moi-era spy chief – for Sh700 million in 2011.
Filings tabled in court on Monday revealed that Mr Pattni is the face behind Marriot Africa International and Trendsetters Investments.
This looks set to offer a rare peek of the business dealings between Mr Pattni, who in recent years has stayed out of the limelight, and the secretive Kanyotu who was estimated to be over Sh20 billion.
Mr Pattni and Kanyotu had close business relations and were charged over the Sh5.8 billion Goldenberg scandal in which taxpayers lost money through a scheme to supposedly re-export gold and diamonds, which proved fictitious.
Court filings by Willy Kihara, one of Kanyotu’s sons, reveals that Marriot Africa International and Trendsetters Investments are one and the same entity, owned and controlled by Mr Pattni.
Mr Kihara said copies of CR12 — a document showing ownership and directorship — from the registrar of companies revealed that the two companies share the same physical and postal address, which he says he personally knows belongs to Pattni.
Marriot Africa International moved to court last year after part of the Kanyotu family placed caveats on the land, cautioning third parties against purchasing the expansive farm in Ruiru.
The company sought to block the Kanyotu family from reclaiming the land and named Margaret Nyakinyua Murigu, Mary Wanjiku Kanyotu, Mr Kihara and Kangaita Coffee Estate as respondents in the case.
The firm said it bought the land from Trendsetters Investments, who purchased it from Kangaita Coffee Estate for Sh700 million in 2011.
On its part, Trendsetters Investments tabled documents showing that Mary Wanjiku Kanyotu and John Kariuki Kanyotu, who are directors of Kangaita Coffee Estate and beneficiaries of the spy chief’s estate, sold the land to the company.
Pattni and the late spymaster were partners in a number of businesses among them Goldenberg International.
The two were accused of hatching a scheme to export gold and diamonds to companies in Dubai and Switzerland on an understanding that they would be paid export compensation. While Mr Pattni was the face of Goldenberg, Kanyotu acted behind the scenes.
Mr Kihara and other beneficiaries of Kanyotu’s estate have disputed the sale to Trendsetters Investments for the 205 hectares that are also the subject of an inheritance fight pending in court.
The family has disputed the sale, saying Kangaita Coffee Estate has bank accounts where proceeds from the sale of any property belonging to the firm ought to be deposited.
“That the family of the late James Kanyotu did not approve any of the sales and/or transfers and the same have been done illegally under the nose of this honourable court,” Mr Kihara says.
In an affidavit filed in court, Mr Kihara further alleges that sometimes last December, Pattni approached him through a proxy for an out-of-court settlement of the dispute.
He says the proxy told him Pattni was willing to return 150 acres and pay back some money as part of the deal.
“That sometime in December 2019 while this matter was still pending a one (name withheld) who told me he had been sent by Kamlesh Pattni approached me with an offer for an out-of-court settlement,” Mr Kihara says.
The family on November 29, 2014 and May 31, 2019 published in the local dailies a caveat warning buyers against illegal purchase of the estate’s property. The adverts were meant to secure the estate from wastage.
But Marriot Africa International said the adverts were fraudulent and misleading as it purchased the land from Trendsetters Investments and that it is the legal owner.
Documents attached to the court filings show that the land has since been subdivided to more than 1,000 plots and sold to third parties.
In September, High Court judge Lucy Gacheru struck out a counter-claim by Kanyotu’s two widows, Margaret and Mary, saying that they had no right to bring the suit.
The judge said Kangaita Coffee Estate, where Kanyotu was a shareholder, had the right to sue and not the beneficiaries. “It is important to note that the said Kangaita Coffee Estate Limited is a company that is distinct from its shareholders,” said Justice Gacheru.
The scramble for Kanyotu’s wealth started after his death in 2008, with some women claiming he had children with them and others saying they were his children born out of wedlock and sought to be considered as beneficiaries.
Kanyotu’s wealth, estimated to be over Sh20 billion, is invested in several properties spread across the country including 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 and owned huge chunks of land and buildings in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Gilgil, South Nyanza, Kirinyaga and Nyandarua.