EACC recovers Sh345M property grabbed by former lands boss

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) South Rift Regional Manager Godfrey Oyugi. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has recovered five-acre government land worth Sh345 million, grabbed by a former Commissioner of Lands and a Member of Parliament.

The recovered prime land in the heart of Nakuru City's central business district had 20 - two bedroom houses. According to information released to the media by the agency, the property was allegedly grabbed by individuals through companies and proxies. It is owned by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

EACC's South Rift Regional Manager Godfrey Oyugi said the land had been reserved and also used for government housing.

"The government residential quarters are popularly known as St Xavier Estate, located off Oginga Odinga Avenue, along Gusii Road," he said.

Speaking during a scene visit to the property on Sunday, Mr Oyugi said the agency has so far recovered property worth over Sh7 billion in Nakuru County alone.

Oyugi said the commission won a case it filed against former Commissioner of Lands Wilson Gachanja and two private entities; Pembeni Limited and Liberty Assurance Limited, linked for a former Aldai MP.

"The commission also sued Saleh Chepkole and Titus Kipkemboi who were also involved in the land transfer fraud with Gachanja," said Oyugi.

According to Oyugi, Gachanja fraudulently allocated the land to Chepkole and Kipkemboi who subsequently transferred it to Pembeni and Liberty Assurance.

Oyugi added that in its ruling, the Lands Court nullified all the transactions that led to the illegal transfer of the land.

"The court ordered the land to be registered in the name of the Permanent Secretary (PS) Treasury, in trust, on behalf of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development," said Oyugi.

According to Oyugi, civil servants occupy the property and have been paying rent to the government.

He insisted that the issue was that the land was registered under the names of the company instead of the government.

"Since the civil servants have not bought the land but only occupy the houses as tenants, they will not be evicted. The only process will be rectification of the titles for the land," deposed Oyugi.

He warned all government officials involved in land frauds that the commission was watching and it would take action against any of them without fear or favour.

Oyugi advised those occupying government land illegally and holding titles to surrender them to the government instead of wasting time on lengthy and costly court processes which they would in turn lose.

"Do not fight a losing battle in court. Surrender the land. EACC has the mandate to negotiate with those who surrender the land under the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) framework," he said.

The commission, expounded Oyugi, will pursue the rectification of the Nakuru Land Register, to have a new title issued in the name of the government as ordered by the Court.

He further stated that once the rectification process is concluded, EACC will hand over the title to the government.

Oyugi said, that in Nakuru alone, the commission is pursuing other grabbed public property in court.

He said the targeted land constitutes agricultural land, road reserves, land reserved for expansion of state agencies and Government houses for civil servants.

Justice Mwangi Njoroge ruled the case in favour of the EACC on September 22, 2023.

In the judgement, Mr Njoroge upheld EACC's submissions that at the time of the allocation, the land was government property and was not available for allocation.

Njoroge ruled that all transactions concerning the land were fraudulent, illegal null and void and the registered owners had no right over the suit property.

He cancelled the registration entries on a lease of the parcel registered in favour of Chepkole and Kipkemboi.

"A permanent injunction is issued restraining the Liberty Assurance Company or any other person from charging, transferring, leasing, developing or occupying the land," ruled Njoroge.

EACC filed the case on June 29, 2018, and submitted that despite sending several demands, the individuals and the companies refused to voluntarily surrender the property.

The commission averred that it received a complaint that on August 5, 1994, the property was illegally transferred to the two individuals by Gachanja, then Commissioner of Lands.

"On August 5, 1998, Gachanja issued a Letter of Allotment for the land despite knowing the property was set aside and reserved for government housing.

On November 17, 1998, Chepkole and Kipkemboi are said to have entered into an agreement with Beatrice Kosgei and the MP, then owners and directors of Pembeni Limited for the transfer.

The EACC stated that on November 20, 1998, Gachanja fraudulently caused a lease to be issued over the Land and the same was registered in favour of Pembeni Limited.

Pembeni is said to have transferred the land to Liberty Assurance on November 14, 2003.