Eco Bank senior staff risk jail for defying court in Sh 1.6b dispute

Eco Bank CEO Jeremy Awori. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Eco Bank CEO Jeremy Awori risks being jailed for defying court orders.

Commercial Court judge Dola Chepkwony has allowed Avistia S R O Limited to pursue Awori and two senior bank managers, Samuel Odhiambo and Eva Schumatez Anyango in a court battle between Avistia and KiwiPay PTE Limited and KiwiPay (Kenya) Limited.

Odhiambo is Eco Bank's executive director while Shumatez is a branch manager of the lender's Muthangari's branch.

The judge had ordered Eco Bank to preserve Sh 1.6 billion until the battle between Avistia and the two Kenyan firms is resolved.

Avistia's director Vladmir Hristov claims that the bank has so far released Sh 1.1 billion to KiwiPay.

"Leave is hereby granted to the applicant to institute contempt proceedings and summons be issued for personal attendance of Jeremy Awori, Samuel Odhiambo and Evan Schumatez Anyango being officers of the third respondent, before the court to show cause why they should not be cited for contempt for disobeying the orders issued on November 17, 2022," ruled Justice Chepkwony.

In her orders, Justice Chepkwony said that the bank should not release the contested money to Kiwi PTE and Kiwi Kenya.

Avistia's lawyer George Ogembo told the court that KiwiPay had withdrawn more than Sh 1.1 billion in a span of six days.

The company withdrew Sh435 million on November 22, in three tranches and followed it up with another withdrawal of Sh734 million on November 28.

"Apart from the said withdrawals, there still exist other and further withdrawals that are done secretly by the first and second defendants (Kiwi PTE and Kiwi Kenya) as permitted by the third defendants through their online platforms which could clearly be shown and indicated by issuance of an order for production of duly certified bank statements of the said accounts covering the period when the order herein was in force," argued Ogembo.

The court heard that at the time Avistia was filing its case, the account at the heart of the dispute had at least Sh2.2 billion.

He said that the withdrawals were made despite the bank being aware of the court orders.

"The means through which the contemnors transacted as against the already existing court orders depicts disobedience, lack of respect to court orders and was in violation of and blatant contempt of the orders of the court and any act undertaken on the furthering of the said contempt are illegal, null and void and ought to be reprimanded accordingly," he said.

Avistia in its case claims that it had entered a deal with KiwiPay for digital payment services.

It argued that it expected the company to remit at least Sh 1.6 billion but it has failed to do so.

"The said sums as presently held in the aforesaid bank accounts form the substratum or subject matter of the suit herein yet the first and second defendants in collusion with the third respondent and other third parties seek to withdraw the sums or deal with the said sums in a manner prejudicial to the commercial interests of the plaintiff," argued Ogembo.

Justice Chepkwony ordered that Awori, Odhiambo and Schumatez respond to the application within seven days.

The case will be mentioned on December 13.

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