Billionaire businessman Humphrey Kariuki (pictured) returned to the country quietly last week, kept a low profile before presenting himself in court yesterday.
Kariuki, who alongside five co-accused denied 21 charges involving alleged Sh41 billion tax fraud, arrived in Nairobi from Dubai in a private jet last Tuesday afternoon.
The Standard learnt Kariuki, who flew from London to Dubai where he boarded the private jet to Nairobi, was advised that police would not arrest him since the court had summoned him and he had until yesterday to comply.
“He has been in the country, but kept a low profile on the advice that today (Monday) was the last day that the court had summoned him to appear,” a lawyer privy to the details told The Standard.
But the reclusive businessman who was initially freed on a Sh11 million cash bail after denying tax evasion charges yesterday was arrested and detained by Directorate of Criminal Investigation officers in connection with ethanol impounded at Africa Spirits Limited early this year. He is expected in court today.
Since Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji on August 8 approved criminal charges against Kariuki, his private jet had been to Johannesburg, South Africa, then it left for Lusaka, Zambia and thereafter Maputo in Mozambique.
From Maputo, an online search of his private jet, placed it in Dubai on August 9. The aircraft departed to Turkey and thereafter it left Turkey for UK’s Farnborough Airfield the same day.
The tycoon showed up in court barely a month after being summoned by prosecutors to answer to several charges of tax evasion linked to his vast business empire.
Kariuki, through his lawyer Kioko Kilukumi, was at pains to explain to the court that he is not a fugitive as the DPP pressed for his detention to seek the assistance of International Police (Interpol) over alleged involvement in other fraud cases.
“He is not a fugitive and has never been on the run. He flew back to the country on Sunday afternoon after learning through the media that he had been summoned and voluntarily surrendered to court in the morning,” said Kilukumi.
Kariuki, donning a black coat, brown trouser, a white shirt and a brown stripped tie, appeared before Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi as curious members of the public jammed the court to catch a glimpse of the businessman.
Kariuki alongside Stuart Gerald, Peter Njenga, Robert Muriithi, Geoffrey Mbobua, Simon Maundu, Kepha Githu and their two companies Africa Spirits Limited and Wow Beverages Limited, faced a 21 charges in three different files involving alleged scheme to evade tax.
The charge sheets revealed they deliberately failed to pay tax, falsified tax records, omitted records from the Value Added Tax (VAT) and concealing excise stamp duties between February 2016 to December 2018 leading to tax loss of Sh41 billion.
“Between February 1, 2016 and December 3 2018 being licensed excise duty manufacturer and registered tax payers deliberately failed to pay the requisite taxes of Sh17.7 billion payable to the commissioner of domestic taxes,” read the first count.
In six other counts, the accused were said to have omitted submitting tax returns of Africa Spirits Ltd totalling Sh18 billion within the same period.
Kariuki faced other charges of aiding the commission of a tax fraud where the prosecution alleged that he and the other accused unlawfully concealed 122,610 bottles of assorted alcoholic drinks at the company’s premises in Thika to evade paying tax.
In the second file, Kariuki and Gerald were accused of being in possession of 80 drums of 250 litres each of ethanol valued at Sh7 million without paying tax.
Kilukumi in his submission accused the prosecution of abusing their powers to charge the businessman even after he told them that he does not own the companies.
“He does not own the companies as alleged; he is just an investor with a subsidiary company owning shares in the business. The DPP position in the case is out of malice and abuse of prosecutorial powers,” said Kilukumi.
State prosecutor Victor Monda, however, asked the court to allow the investigating officers to detain the businessman for two more days to establish if he is a flight risk given his dual citizenship of Kenya and Cyprus.
According to Monda, Kariuki was yet to be processed by the investigators after presenting himself to court on Monday morning.
“We also want to check his European Union passport and take his fingerprints to help us seek information from other international agencies including Interpol,” said Monda.
But the magistrate overruled the DPP’s application to detain Kariuki, ruling that it will be unfair to curtail his freedom after he travelled to honour court summons.
Mr Andayi added that it will be discriminatory to detain him while releasing the others yet they face the same charges, and directed that the businessman presents himself to the DCI after paying the cash bail to have his fingerprints taken.
“I find no good reason to detain him when he presented himself to court without waiting for a warrant of arrest to be issued,” said Andayi.
He released Kariuki and Gerald on a cash bail of Sh11 million in all the three files while the other accused were granted Sh1 million cash bail.
He also ordered that they deposit all their passports in court and not to leave the country without the court’s permission.
The case will be mentioned on September 5.
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