Of all the Kenyan billionaires — and they are a handful — reclusive businessman Madatali Chatur could be the least known.
Although he shuns publicity these days, he was in the 80s a common face in the media but as money, power, and wealth followed him, he became the invisible billionaire.
With a fortune that runs into billions of shillings, his decision to sell all his Kenyan properties, estimated to be worth Sh76.99 billion, must have caught everyone by surprise — but not those who know him.
“He was not getting well with some government people,” a source who knows him told us without getting into details.
Whether he has seen warning signs ahead in the real estate market or he is escaping from uncertainty is not clear.
Some pundits see this dramatic decision as either a vote of no confidence in the economy or a feeling that he can no longer survive the changing political atmosphere.
For over three decades, Mr Chatur built an enviable empire with several properties on hundreds of acres spread across the country, which he claims, rose from an electronic shop that he opened in River Road, Nairobi, in 1977.
During the days of Kanu, Mr Chatur was a blue-eyed boy of the regime and hobnobbed with the party mandarins, power brokers and security chiefs — including some former police commissioners who were on his speed dial.
He would also be part of Asian delegations to State House, contributing money President Daniel Moi's projects and was a known philanthropist.
As his networks grew and wealth ballooned, Mr Chatur consolidated his portfolio under a group that boasts 16 companies, all of which own prime land in Nairobi, Nakuru, Machakos, Kilifi, Mombasa, Kwale and Turkana counties.
Little had been heard about Mr Chatur until February this year when Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter was arrested alongside Mr Arthur Ingolo Sakwa and “a Mr Madatali Chatur” for what the Central Bank of Kenya and the Banking Fraud Investigations Unit said was presenting a forged 90-day Treasury Bills dated 1990.
But the Chatur Group of Companies said the arrested “Mr Madat Suburali Chatur” was not related to their chairman, Mr Madat Saburali Chatur.
At the moment, the actual reasons for the looming sale remain unknown, as efforts to get an explanation from Mr Chatur have been futile.
The businessman told the Daily Nation on Saturday last week that he was out of town and would get in touch once back.
He has since not answered calls or responded to text messages.
Investigations by the Daily Nation have however revealed that the businessman, reputed to be one of the wealthiest in Kenya, has land and buildings valued at Sh76.99 billion.
Each of his 16 companies own prime properties, while some of the real estate is registered in his own name.
The Chatur Group mainly deals in real estate, but it has now emerged that the tycoon also has interests in the agriculture sector, owning two farms in Kwale and Malindi measuring 32,499 acres.
He co-owns most of the companies with his eldest son — Rahim.
But even as Mr Chatur looks to cash in on his vast empire, City Hall has marked two of his properties for demolition, arguing that the billionaire businessman acquired building approvals illegally.
City Hall in August gave notice to Mr Chatur’s tenants at New Muthaiga Mall and a car bazaar the tycoon owns in Gigiri that it would be bringing down the constructions.
Mr Chatur has since sued through Gemini Properties (New Muthaiga Mall) and Scorpion Properties (Gigiri Mall).
Judicial review division judge Pauline Nyamweya last Wednesday transferred the suit to the lands court.
“Neither the applicants nor their tenants were afforded a fair administrative action before this decision was made since no prior notice was given of the decision nor a hearing was afforded to the applicant or its tenant.
“There is no claim by the director of physical planning in the enforcement notice or any iota of evidence that the herein attached approvals of the development plans were acquired through fraudulent means or are forgeries," Mr Chatur’s son Rahim says in court papers.
And adds: "The applicants’ buildings have been financed by a bank facility which is being paid to date. The loss of tenants will lead to foreclosure of the applicants’ property, which will cause substantial loss and irreparable harm,”
His real estate interests are spread across commercial, residential and hospitality facilities.
His commercial buildings include Mithoo House, Diamond Plaza, Diamond Plaza II, Hope International, Ngara Shopping Complex, Simba Centre, Mariam Arcade, Likoni Mall, Trust Building and New Muthaiga Shopping Mall.
The residential buildings include Langata Paradise Apartments, Bahari Dhow Villas, and houses in Nyari Estate and Fourth Parklands Avenue.
His hospitality arm has the Concord Hotel and Suites, Mara Concord, Shelly Beach Resort and the Cloud Hotel.
The agriculture side has land in Lokichogio, Maanzoni in Machakos, Syokimau, Malindi, Mai Mahiu and Mombasa.
Leo Investments is perhaps the billionaire’s most successful venture, owning several high value properties such as Diamond Plaza (Sh20 billion), named after his late brother, Concord Hotel (Sh3 billion), Mithoo House (Sh2 billion) on River Road, the Mara Concord (Sh700 million), Ngara Shopping Complex (Sh480 million) among others.
Diamond Plaza, aside from letting space to several shops, also hosts the Chatur Group offices.
The businessman’s wealth has not been without controversy, as he has been a defendant in a litany of court cases filed against him and his firms over deals gone sour.
At least twice, Mr Chatur has been found to be in contempt of court in property battles, which has seen him fined.
In 2010, High Court Judge Ruth Sitati fined Mr Chatur and his son Rahim Sh300,000 after finding that they disobeyed her order stopping works on the Sh3 billion New Muthaiga Shopping Mall.
The stop order had been issued following a suit by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, which was investigating how the land ended up in the hands of private developers, having been listed as public property.
Muthaiga residents had gone to court seeking to have the construction of the mall stopped, saying the land had been earmarked for a nursery school and a clinic.
“The public plot was allocated to Gemini Properties with a new land reference number being 209/9295 in place of the original 209/8000/84, subject however to certain special conditions and in particular condition number five, which was to the effect that the suit property would be used for a clinic and day nursery school," court papers say.
The resident argued: "The allocation of the suit property consisted of a public utility, was illegal and accordingly Gemini Properties holds the suit property in trust for the citizens of Kenya and for the residents of New Muthaiga in particular."
Justice Sitati, who also presided over the claim by Muthaiga residents, ruled that only the Attorney General could sue to recover public land, which allowed Mr Chatur to start construction of the mall.
Mr Chatur’s family owns New Muthaiga Shopping Mall through Gemini Properties. Five years later, another High Court judge, Olga Sewe, found Mr Chatur in contempt.
The businessman’s Chatur Properties Limited had kicked out a tenant at its Simba Centre on River Road and attached goods to clear a debt.
Ex-Sec Printers had contested the debt and obtained an order barring attachment of its assets.