A fresh wave of land fraud is sweeping across the Coast with prospective land buyers being swindled of hundreds of millions by a well-organised syndicate connected to the Lands Registry.
In the scheme, the disputed parcels of land have more than two “genuine” title deeds, and a search at the Lands Registry validates the said title deeds as authentic.
In some of the cases that have ended before the courts, emboldened fraudsters approach law firms with fake title deeds posing as owners of prime properties at the coast searching for buyers.
One of the prominent cases Sh100 million land in Malindi that was bought by ODM leader Raila Odinga. The same parcel of land was also sold to British tycoon John Unsworth (now deceased).
According to court papers, Raila bought the land in 1999 from former Malindi mayor Frederic Diwani (deceased). But Diwani later fraudulently sold the same plot to the Unsworth.
Diwani admitted the offense in a Kilifi Court and was fined Sh800,000. Malindi Environment and Lands Court also directed the Lands Registry to revoke Unsworth’s title deed.
In a recent case concluded in a Mombasa Court, a couple from Nairobi lost Sh11 million to unscrupulous land dealers in Kilifi who had posed as a famous doctor owning prime land in Kikambala.
The couple bought the land through an agent without meeting with the alleged vendor said to be a Dr Ernest Muinde Kioko, a consultant physician at a Nairobi hospital.
Property developer Shezad Fazal and his wife Carol Mungai were introduced to the said land on June 2015 by an unregistered land agent, David Nyambu who was known to Fazal.
According to the evidence adduced in court, the imposter used Dr Kioko’s Identity Card and forged signatures but used a different picture.
The fraudster also forged a sale consent of Kioko’s wife who they alleged to be Naomi Kalekye Muinde.
However, it turned out that Dr Kioko’s wife is an Asian contrary to the consent.
The money was deposited into an account of Ernest Muinde Kioko (imposter) in Equitorial Commercial Bank, through personal cheques by his lawyer Leonard Shimaka.
The couple’s attempt to meet the vendor on several occasions before finalising the transaction failed to materialise as they were informed he was a busy man.
Accompanied by his uncle and nephew, Fazal travelled to Mombasa and was shown the land by Nyambu and another person called Alfan.
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At the property, they met a caretaker, a Mr Shaban Rogers, and proceeded to view the property.
Alfan asked Fazal to contact Shimaka and they agreed to meet at the advocate’s office.
According to a court testimony by Shimaka who oversaw the sale transaction, the imposter visited him with a land agent, Musa Bakari, and introduced himself as a doctor based in Nairobi looking to sell the said land and requested him to act as his advocate once he secures a buyer.
He said after a week or two, Bakari through Nyambu, communicated to him that they have a buyer and they met him in his chambers.
In June 2015, accompanied by Faiz, Nyambu, and Alfan, the developer went to Shimaka’s office and confirmed the sale price as Sh11 million plus a 10 per cent deposit and was issued a copy of the title deed.
Fazal then asked to meet the vendor but was informed he was busy.
On June 16, 2015, Shimaka did a search which confirmed the owner of the property to be Dr Kioko, and to satisfy themselves, Fazal also did an independent search on June 22, 2015 and confirmed that the property had no encumbrances and was registered in name of Kioko.
Shimaka sent them a sale agreement in triplicate for execution and he forwarded it to their advocate, a Mr Ali, for independent legal advice and also for him to act for them in the transaction.
Shimaka proceeded to pay the vendor the full amount through personal cheques, a fact Fazal told the court was reckless and ought to have used RTGS.
Shimaka admitted that he did not see the marriage certificate when he prepared the spousal consent and the wife did not appear before him.
The transfer was eventually effected on July 29, 2015.
However, on December 2, 2015, Fazal was called by M/s Apollo Muinde and Company Advocates, who informed them that Dr Kioko is claiming ownership of the property.
In a judgment issued by Justice Sila Munyao, the couple lost the case filed against Dr Kioko, lawyer Leonard Shimaka, Birir, Shimaka and Co Advocates T/A Marende, Lands Registrar, Mombasa County, The Chief Land Register, Attorney General, and National Lands Commission.
The judge admitted there was quite some sophistication in the level of fraud that has revealed itself in this case and the plaintiffs were swallowed into the scam.
“But maybe, on reflection, they could have been extra careful about the whole transaction and exercised some extra due diligence especially given that they never saw the vendor,” said Justice Munyao.
The judge noted that the money they paid is traceable and maybe they can get some relief by tracing it.
“I wish them luck. I am very sympathetic to them because they lost a colossal sum of money,” said Justice Munyao.