All eyes on High Court in Sh3.5b Kenyatta kin land tussle with wealthy Bid family

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta's first cousin Kung'u Muigai. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

A long-drawn dispute over a multi-billion-shilling property involving two prominent families could finally be resolved today when the High Court delivers its judgment on the ownership of the piece of land in Kiambu County.

The case has been in and out of court for almost two decades, and  High Court Judge Freda Mugambi was initially scheduled to deliver the judgment on March 6, 2024, but it was moved to March 12.

The battle pits the wealthy Bid family and Uhuru Kenyatta’s cousins, Ngengi Muigai, and his brother Kung’u Muigai.

The Bid family is influential in the country’s business circles.

In addition to real estate, the Bid family, whose estate is managed by Rahul Bid and Kamlesh Bid, has interests in the insurance and securities markets. The Bid family owns BTB Insurance, Bid Securities - a stock brokerage firm - and Tausi Assurance.

In real estate, its key developments include a 600-acre mixed-use Sh1 billion Albizzia Downs Estates in Thika, developed through an investment vehicle Bidsob Ltd.

The two families have for years fought over the Sh3.5 billion land in Thika. The powerful Muigai family first moved to court in 1992, initially fighting off KCB Bank’s bid to auction the 443-acre land over to service a loan advanced in the late 1980s.

The Bid family has for nearly 20 years been trying to move into the property after acquiring it from KCB. Their attempts, including having the politically connected brothers evicted from the land, have been futile and subject to numerous court cases.

The saga started back in 1988, when the late James Muigai, a brother of the late President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and father to the two brothers (Ngengi and Kung’u), took a loan of Sh18.68 million from KCB to start a flower farm and cash in on the then growing sector.

The elder Muigai used the land owned by two of his companies – Benjoh Amalgamated and Muiri Coffee Estates – as security for the loan.

In the arrangement, Benjoh Amalgamated was the principal borrower, while Muiri Coffee Estates became the guarantor.

The flower farm and export business did not, however, take off as had been anticipated, and the company soon ran into financial headwinds.

Benjoh Amalgamated started defaulting on loan repayments. Unable to service the loan, KCB first sought to auction the land in 1992.

The firm had repaid Sh6 million and still had a balance of Sh13 million but the matter was resolved out of court, with the firm committing to clear the loan within three months. 

Benjoh, however, did not live up to its promise and soon began fighting off bids by the lander to auction the property. The company would be saved by court injunctions on several occasions. 

For years, there was a back and forth in court between the Muigai family and KCB, with the lender eventually having its way and on September 19, 2007 sold the property to Bidii Kenya for Sh70 million. The land was transferred to Bidii on August 8, 2008.

But in the 17 years since the Bid family bought the land through their Bidii Kenya real estate company, it has never been able to take possession of it.

Muiri Coffee Estates shortly after went to court claiming the land was worth Sh693 million, compared to the Sh70 million that KCB had sold it for, arguing that the sale was fraudulent.

It also argued that the bank should have first sold the collateral provided by Benjoh Amalgamated, which was the principal borrower before going for Muiri, which was a guarantor.

Benjoh had given titles to two other pieces of land as collateral, which it had argued were adequate to cover the loan balance following the default.

The tussle has over the years mutated into numerous cases from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

The two directors of Muiri Coffee Estates, which sits on the disputed land, have since exhausted all their legal recourse.

In 2016, the two brothers even petitioned Parliament, seeking a reversal of the auction at the time, noting that the bank had sold the land without the owner’s consent. 

Parliament’s Finance, Trade and Planning Committee, which handled the matter, however, noted there were no laws dictating how lenders should treat collateral from the principal borrower and guarantor and that the bank can choose which to dispose first.

In 2017, they also filed a complaint with the Directorate of Criminal  Investigations, claiming the consent that KCB used to auction the land had been forged. 

On June 13, 2014, retired Judge Jonathan Havelock directed that Muiri Coffee Estates be evicted from the land, with the process being supervised by County Police Commander, Kiambu. But this never happened.

The Kiambu County Police Commander Micheal Muchiri, who in his official capacity was supposed to implement the order, was scheduled to appear before Justice Mugambi on March 6 to give an update on the status of effecting the eviction order.

He, however, did not show up in court but sent an apology that he had been held up in another official matter. Through his lawyer, Muchiri also asked for more time to carry out the order.

Bidii’s lawyer, Mansur Issa, on March 6 told the court that this is the seventh Kiambu Police Commander who has failed to comply with the order given 10 years ago.

The push for more time, Mr Issa said, was meant to buy time so that another commander could be found. He wanted the case concluded once and for all.  

“Otherwise, my lady, you and I will retire, and this order we’ll leave it here,” said Mr Issa.

Last week, Justice Mugambi asked the commander to appear personally before her on March 12, failure to which “an order to commit him to civil jail will be issued.”  

From the early 1990s when KCB started trying to auction the land, it was seemingly obvious that there would be a political angle to it. The two directors of Muiri Coffee estates are related to the Kenyatta family.  

Indeed, after the death of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, the Kenyatta family remained apolitical.

Only Ngengi, his sister Beth Mugo and Mama Ngina’s brother George Muhoho were active in politics.

Upon Kenyatta’s death, Ngengi inherited his Gatundu parliamentary seat. Ngengi’s sister, Beth, was a long-serving MP for Dagoretti in Nairobi until she retired from active politics.