Swazuri arrest opens lid on fraudulent lands compensations

Evamary Wachera Gathondu arrives at EACC headquarters in Nairobi. She was among the suspects arrested by investigators regarding the irregular compensation by National Land Commission (NLC) to Tornado Carriers Ltd in respect of land reference MN/VI/3801. [Elvis Ogina/Standard]
Top land officials were arrested yesterday for allegedly inflating the value of a piece of land and receiving kickbacks.

Former National Land Commission boss Muhammad Swazuri, senior land officials and their relatives were detained over their suspected involvement in the Sh109 million payout for land valued at Sh34 million.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), which detailed how the alleged loot was shared out in court papers, said the case was one of many in a multi-billion-shilling compensation scam.

“This scandal is just the tip of fraudulent acquisition and irregular compensation of land compulsorily acquired through the NLC for various Government projects including the Standard Gauge Railway, expansion of roads and construction of by-passes,” swore EACC investigator Catherine Ngari.

The transaction arose after the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) requested the NLC to acquire the land from Tornado Carriers Limited for the construction of the Southern By-pass and Kipevu New Highway Container Terminal link road in October 2013.

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji said a valuation was done, and it showed the land’s value in 2015 was Sh34.5 million. But after the company rejected the offer, Dr Swazuri ordered for a fresh valuation.

“The team returned a staggering figure of Sh109.7 million for the same parcel of land in January 2017,” said Mr Haji.

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On the strength of the second valuation, KeNHA remitted Sh109.7 million to the NLC. The commission paid Sh55.2 million to two directors of Tornado Carriers – Asia Akhtar Nazir Ahmed and Tarah Begun Khan.

“The remaining Sh54.5 million was paid to the accounts of CW Chege Advocates, who then distributed the money to officials of the land commission by way of kickbacks for facilitating the inflated payment,” claimed the EACC.

The money was wired to the officials through their spouses and business associates in a calculated bid to conceal the fraudulent dealings, said the detectives.

This dubious transaction is what landed Swazuri, NLC commissioner Emma Njogu, Director for Valuation Salome Munubi, Director of Finance Francis Mugo, NLC Secretary Lillian Keverenge and Deputy Director of Valuation Joash Oindo in trouble.

Munubi’s husband Sostener Ogero Taracha, Keverenge’s Michael Onyango Oloo, and Oindo’s wife Jane Wanjiku Gachigi and son Kevin Oindo Mogambi, are also on the EACC’s wanted list.

NLC’s acting Finance Director Benard Cherutich and Oindo were said to have each pocketed Sh7 million from the deal, while Keverenge got Sh3 million and Munubi Sh900,000.

The EACC said Munubi got her cut through Taracha while Oindo was paid through Sunside Guest House, which is managed by his wife and son.

Part of kickback

Cherutich is alleged to have received his share through his company, Lorgis Logistics Ltd, where he is a co-director with his wife. Keverenge is said to have gotten part of the kickback through Oloo, while the remainder was paid to an agent to pay for a property in Uhuru estate.

The EACC was also said to be looking for lawyer Catherine Wanjiru Chege, businessman Samuel Rugongo, Godfrey Muritu, the two directors of Tornado Carriers, Evahmary Wachera, Francis Kibaru, Martha Wairimu, John Mwangi, Philip Kileiya, Albert Lessonet, Mercy Wahu and Betha Wangithi.

Haji said the individuals would be charged with conspiracy to commit an economic crime, abuse of office, financial misconduct, unlawful acquisition of public property, dealing with suspect property and money laundering.

This is the second time Swazuri and senior NLC officials will be facing charges relating to inflation of costs for compensations.

An audit report indicated that taxpayers had lost around Sh4 billion in the illegality.

Evidence collected showed that fake compensation claims, double payments, over-payment, inflation of land values and payment of people whose land was never on the SGR corridor was used to loot taxpayers’ money.

Following the arrests, crucial data that was key to the investigations is said to have disappeared after a break-in at the commission’s offices.

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Ex-NLC boss Muhammad SwazuriSwazuri arrested