There is a case in Nairobi that will certainly open the Pandora’s Box and by the time it is dispensed with in the next few months, we shall have an idea of how corruption networks in the Land Registry works.
It could be the tip of the iceberg, but welcome to the world of the Kangethe family.
The Court of Appeal has already termed the case as “perplexing” and as a “measure of how high the country has soared in the corruption index.”
HOTELS AND RESORTS
It is the story of an “intricate web of a fraudulent syndicate” — to use the Court of Appeal’s description — that involves family members who, with the connivance of officials at the Ministry of Lands, made different titles to the same piece of land and charged it to different banks.
For that simple act, they walked away with hundreds of millions of shillings from various banks without raising any alarm. With the money, they purchased Nairobi’s Princess Hotel and they built a three-star hotel in Ngara, where Verckys Bar and Resort operates.
Caught in the web are lawyers, top banks and leading real estate agents and valuers.
The family has told the court that the late President Jomo Kenyatta’s family was the one pressing the banks to prosecute them because one of their banks is an aggrieved party.
But so far, and the Court of Appeal observed as much, “it is perplexing that none of the perpetrators has been subjected to the criminal process.” The reason for this is that High Court Judge, Justice G.V. Odunga, stopped the Director of Public Prosecutions from investigating and arresting the perpetrators of the scam until some four civil suits filed in different courts are determined.
It all starts on April 10, 2010 when Mr Patrick Njuguna, Mr Edward Njuguna and Mr George Kireru — trading as Patrick Kang’ethe and Sons — went to Co-operative Bank and borrowed Sh166 million. They also gave out security for a half-acre parcel of land in Dagoretti, whose title was Dagoretti/Riruta/2289. That title was in the name of Mr Njuguna — who is father to both Edward and George. We shall call it Plot 2289 for the sake of clarity.
On September 10, 2010, a charge was registered against the title at the lands office and there was no encumbrance on it then, according to the papers filed in court. The original title was given to Co-operative Bank after the Kangethe family signed two charge agreements dated August 18, 2010.
With that, the Kangethe’s walked away with the money and never repaid it. Instead, they started what the Appeal Court terms as a “syndicate” that has left three banks on the verge of losing hundreds of millions of customers money.
Two years after they received the Co-op Bank cash, the Kangethe’s acquired a different title for Plot 2289 but this time in the name of Wardpa Holdings Limited, whose directors were the brothers Edward, George and their sister Gladys Njeri Kangethe.
How this new title for a property that had been charged to Co-op Bank was made and introduced into the Land Registry is at the heart of this complex web. But what we know so far is that when Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) decided to carry out a search to verify whether the title was genuine, they found no evidence that it had been charged and, on the face of it, it looked perfectly clean, mainly because the people who introduced the title and deed maps were members of the syndicate. They were also, possibly, government employees!
Another title for the same property was prepared and charged to Equity Bank to secure Sh80 million. The bank had carried out its own search and found that the property was owned by Mr Patrick Kangethe, trading as Patrick Kangethe and Sons and had not been charged.
The court is now to determine the role played by city valuers Lloyd Masika, Tysons, Mureithi Valuers which provided certified searches for the various properties, and the law firms of Kithi and Company Advocates, Khaemba and Associates and Mboya Wangongu and Waiyaki, which did the bookings and registration of the charges. Also on the spotlight are land registrars Bernard Leitich, Charles Ngetich and Betty Atieno, who have dismissed the certified searches and registrations as “forgeries”.
But the scandal is much more complex than that. On March 24, 2014 and using another Plot 2289 title, the siblings managed to get Sh100 million from CBA to finance the construction of a three-star hotel in Ngara — today known as Verckys Bar and Resort. The only difference between the title held by CBA and the one held by Co-op Bank was the ownership of Plot 2289. This time too, the loan was granted after external valuers Lloyd Masika provided certified searches signed by a Ms Betty Otieno, who claims that her signature was forged.
According to the searches given to the bank, this property had no registered encumbrances. This loan was also secured on the Ngara hotel property that was being financed.
But according to investigators, the title for the Ngara property that was given to CBA as security was also forged. This is because at the Land Registry, the title entered in the book under No. 340 was for a facility secured by Kinjunje Gardens Limited — also owned by the family — to purchase Princess Hotel from Henkam Limited.
That means that the Ngara property had two titles from the land’s office — and CBA was left holding title No. LR 209/163/1/6, which was by all means fake.
The purchase of Princess Hotel property on LR 209/1817 was what opened a new scheme for the family and how they managed to dupe banks using this property is certainly going to shock. Previously owned by Henkam Limited, whose directors are Ms Cecilia Kahigu and Mr John Magu, the property was sold on February 14, 2014 through an Equity Bank loan advanced to Kinjunje Gardens Limited for Sh160 million. The lawyer for this transaction was LJA Associates Advocates.
What both Ms Kahigu and Mr Magu didn’t know was that another sale agreement for Princess Hotel dated January 20, 2014 had been prepared by Khaemba and Associates Advocates purporting to represent the vendor, Henkam Limited, and Kinjunje Limited for yet another sale of the same property. That means that Princess Hotel was just about to be sold twice!
Both Ms Kahigu and Mr Magu have told investigators that the photographs appearing on the transfer documents prepared by Khaemba and Associates were not theirs but of fictitious directors of Henkam Limited. They claim that their signatures were forged too. But with these documents, the directors of Kinjunje Gardens requested a loan of Sh160 million from Commercial Bank of Africa — although they had already purchased the same hotel with another loan from Equity. The loan was paid to the lawyer’s account and Sh139 million was transferred to the account of Ndonga Limited, a company owned by the Kangethe family – Gladys, Edward and George.
This family had been introduced to the bank by its relationship manager Samuel Warui, who previously worked at Fina Bank. He had apparently vouched for the family, saying they were valuable customers with Fina Bank.
The first loan taken by Ndonga Limited was for Sh56 million for the purchase of a property in Ngara LR 209/2489/34, which was owned by Glaret Kindergarten. A sale agreement had been prepared by the law firm of Khaemba & Khaemba Advocates and was signed by the two “owners” – Ms Joycatherine Njeru and Ms Jane Muchoki.
The security for this title was apparently approved through valuation of the property carried out by Tysons Limited and a search at the Ministry of Lands “confirmed” that these were the owners of the property. The law firm of Mboya, Wangongu & Waiyaki processed the pre- and post-registration of transfer and caveat searches, bookings and transfer in favour of the bank, which then approved the disbursement of Sh56 million to Glaret Kindergarten Limited.
The law firm was perhaps a victim of mischief at the land’s office — the custodian of all documents — and whether they were in a position of knowing what was happening is a matter at the heart of investigations.
BULK OF MONEY
As it later turned out, Glaret Kindergarten was owned by Ms Margaret Kangethe and her daughter Gladys Kangethe, and not Ms Joycatherine Njeru and Ms Jane Muchoki. Thus, these two family members were buying a property they already owned. Gladys was also a director of Ndonga Limited which had received the bulk of the money loaned to Kinjunje Gardens to buy Princess Hotel on Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi.
Also, why the banks did not realise that the Sh56 million loan was paid to the account of the purchasers at Equatorial Commercial Bank and not the vendors is intriguing.
Besides Ndonga Limited, the family also had another company known as GEP Limited, according to investigators. GEP Limited approached the bank and purported to purchase a property in Mountain View Estate, Nairobi (LR 12948/214) which was owned by Ndonga Limited. Yet, again, the family was buying a property they already owned but the searches at the land’s office never picked these details and the family received Sh28.8 million from the bank. This loan was secured by a further charge of the Ngara property, LR 209/2489/34.
Land registrar Betty Atieno, who is said to have signed the transfers, has told the court that the original certificate for Mountain View house was forged to indicate that GEP Limited had transferred a property to Ndonga Limited. She says the booking numbers were for different registrations but how they were introduced at the registry is now a puzzle.
The family had also used the same scheme to “purchase” Moi Avenue’s Woodland House on LR 209/12513, previously owned by Ramesh Shah and Navinchander Shah. But investigators say the title given to CBA to purchase this property was forged.
The loan for Sh100 million was approved after the bank’s external valuers, Mureithi Valuers, attached a search from the ministry of Lands to authenticate the security and registered ownership of the property.
What later emerged is that the same property was submitted as security for another loan from Diamond Trust by Ndonga Limited.
When all these banks realised that they were holding securities for the same properties, each tried to have the first right of sale of the properties and none knew which of the titles was genuine. After all, all the searches done before the disbursements were carried out in the land’s office by leading agents.
In 2016, the banks then started fighting to stop each from selling the various charged properties and had sued the family members in various civil suits. The family had also filed a case in Mombasa — although all the properties in question were in Nairobi. But attempts to have criminal prosecutions on the matter hit a hitch after the High Court decided that the civil matter should be dispensed with first and that the DPP should not investigate this issue.
When the case opens, this case will tell us the story of the rot at the Lands office and banks might be forced to check the titles they are holding. It could be the tip of the iceberg.