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Judge sues minister over VIP toilet covers

By | Jul 8th 2009 | 4 min read
By | July 8th 2009

By Nancy Akinyi

High Court judge, Justice Nicholas Ombija, wanted a glamorous and exquisite home befitting a man of honour and taste.

An adept planner and accomplished expert in public finance, Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya juggled his work as the overseer of upcoming national population census and hunting for a buyer who would give the best price for his property in a leafy Nairobi Estate.

The willing seller and willing buyer met, struck Sh13.5 million deal for the property on ‘as-is’ basis.

When Oparanya received the last instalment of the final payment, he cleared what he says were his personal movable property.

Justice Nicholas Ombija’s house in Kitsuru, Nairobi. The judge has sued Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya over some fittings. [PHOTO: BONIFACE OKENDO/STANDARD]

When Justice Ombija, who had inspected the property with his wife as it was earlier, later turned up planning to move in, he found it had been stripped of its ambience that made the living interior glow and beckon.

Having been taken around the house by Oparanya and his third wife, the Judge later said some of the ‘extras’ in the home were gone; the wall bracket lights; chandeliers, and executive toilet covers.

The discovery set off a flurry of letters and calls between his lawyers and the vendors, who insisted they were of ‘sentimental’ value to him and his wife Caroline. The goodies were imported from China, and were not part of the deal they had signed.

The dispute is now in the hands of another High Court Judge Justice Jessie Lesiit. The case will be mentioned before the Commercial Court resident judge next Monday for further directions.

Vandalised house

Ombija is arguing Oparanya ‘vandalised’ the house after selling it to him. The minister says all he took was what was duly his.

The matter of the VIP toilet seat covers, starry wall and hanging lights will now be decided in court. Neither side has given the number or cost but for good measure they have hired lawyers. And as is tradition in local courts, they could have long prepared for the eventuality if they lose.

They could also meet the cost of the suit and other ‘damages’ the presiding judge may award.

But all Ombija wants is what he believes he has paid for, and Oparanya thinks it has too personal a value and symbolism to let go.

Toilet covers

Ombija accuses the minister of replacing the executive toilet covers he saw in the bathrooms with cheap imports. Attached to the court papers are photographs journalists are yet to see.

The judge also wants the minister restrained from disposing of what he removed until the case is determined.

But if Oparanya loses and the court grants Ombija his prayers, he might be ordered to return what the judge is demanding.

Ombija says in his papers the minister avoided taking his calls when he began pursuing the matter and he only talked to him after he used a different telephone number.

Through his lawyers, Nyachae and Ashitiva Advocates, Oparanya says all he took were his personal effects, especially those with some sentimental value.

But Ombija, through lawyer Chacha Odera, says Oparanya did not sell him a fully furnished bungalow without those items.

In a letter by the minister’s advocates to the judge’s advocates, Oparanya says he has no intention to and shall not ‘vandalise’ the premises as feared.

He maintains in a letter that as part of the process of moving out, he has only taken and will continue removing only that which rightly belongs to him.

"It is our client’s understanding that such personal items and ornaments as loose hanging lighting decorations (as opposed to permanently fixed lighting fittings), photographs, paintings and other movables that are ordinarily not part of the permanent fixtures, rightly belong to him and cannot be said to have been part of what was comprised in the sale transaction."

The letter further states that, "anything to the contrary would incorrectly imply that the premises were sold as fully, half or otherwise in some way furnished".

Sh200,000 deposit

The agreement dated September 12, last year, between the minister and the judge, states that the purchase price of the property in Kitisuru estate, Nairobi, is Sh13.5 million and that the judge paid deposit of Sh200,000.

A valuation report in the court documents states that the land measures about 0.48 acres and its current market value is Sh5 million.

The current market value of improvements on the land is Sh20 million.

The valuation report is dated September 25, last year. Ombija obtained ex-parte orders restraining Oparanya or his agents from entering or removing anything from the house until the suit is heard.

Under certificate of urgency through Odera, Ombija states that he discovered that the items had been removed when he and his wife went to inspect the house.

He says that it was during inspection that Caroline intimated to him that they were taking away the lighting chandeliers as they were not only costly but of sentimental value to the family.

But Ombija, who has sued the Kenya Commercial Bank separately for subjecting him to pecuniary embarrassment for declining to authorise a transaction using his Visa Credit card, says he restrained himself from engaging Oparanya’s wife in a verbal exchange but instead referred the matter to his lawyer.

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