Between 1998 and 2000, the then Kenya Orthodox Archbishop Seraphim Kykkotis invested the church’s money in shares of the retail chain, Uchumi.
At the time, Uchumi Supermarket was doing very well and its shares fetched a good price at the Nairobi Securities Exchange.
Seraphim was transferred from Kenya in 2001 and ArchBishop Makarios Tillyrides replaced him. He, however, went with the share certificates and after persistent claim by the Patriarch Theodoros Nicholas Choreftakis, he returned them.
The shares were sold in 2012 and 2013 for about Sh600 million. This cash is part of an estimated Sh2 billion worth of property that is at the heart of a legal dispute pitting local clerics against foreign missionaries heading the church.
Four priests of the African Orthodox Church of Kenya - Nicholas Gachege, Moses Ngugi, Peter Ng’ang’a and Fred Kago - have sued the Orthodox Archbishop of Kenya, Irinoupolis Ltd and Orthodox Towers Management which is led by Theodoros.
The plaintiffs argue that the church’s constitution was amended to grant Theodoros control over the money and to allow creation of a company that would oversee spending of the cash, sidelining the church’s local leadership.
Similarly, the changes installed Theodoros as chair of all general council meetings and in his absence his nominee.
The minutes stated: “It was voluntarily resolved that all powers in the Archbishop per memorandum and articles of association be vested in the Pope (office of the pope) and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa”.
The Kenyan clergy are accusing their foreign counterparts of illegally taking over what was meant to be under the locals. They are also asking that they take over other church properties spread across the country estimated at Sh2 billion.
In reply, Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya and Irinoupolis argue that it is mandated to hold all title documents in relation to the church in Kenya under authority derived from the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria.
“The first defendant is the overall authority in Kenya and usually obtains donations from Europe and America for the benefit of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs and their employees draw their salaries from the first defendant. Further, the first defendant has built schools, centres, seminaries, clinics and other development projects for the benefit of Kenyan communities,” the reply reads.
A similar tussle is brewing at the Kenya Redeemed Church which also had its fair share of leadership trouble over seven properties.
Twenty seven members of the church sued Attorney General Githu Muigai, the registrar of societies and Kenya Redeemed Church leadership including one Bishop Allan Njeru.
The claimants told the court that in 1985, the leadership decided to zone the church into two geographical areas - Eastern and Western parts. The former was placed under Njeru and the latter under one Bishop Absalom Ndungu.
Justice David Majanja in the 2013 case heard that Ndungu increased his flock and at the same time acquired properties which did not go down well with Njeru.
Differences between the two went on and culminated with Ndung’u being suspended from the church, his licence to celebrate marriages revoked and he together with his followers expelled from an annual general meeting held in December 22, 2011.
Ndungu’s faction moved to court claiming ownership of two properties in Kiganjo, one in Riruta, others in Mitubiri, Komothai , a plot under the name of Bigima Housing Company and a church plot in Kayole.
They also sought to remove Njeru, John Njenga Kamau, Cyrus Njogoo, Stephen Mwangi, Andrew Murage and Joseph Mwangi as the church office bearers.
On his part, Njeru asked the court to block Ndung’u, who was his assistant, from managing 34 churches under his then watch.
Interestingly, there were three other suits touching on the same church.
The first, filed in 2011, by one Samuel Morara wanted the court to declare the two zones autonomous and that members of the church in Kayole should be allowed to transfer the plot to any trustee they wished to.
The other case, also filed the same year, touched on leadership. Ndungu was the complainant and he wanted the church’s executive board to declare that he was a bishop and should therefore not be ousted.
The third was filed by members of the Western Zone against Njeru and they asked the court to declare them autonomous. Justice Majanja however, dismissed the case noting that there was a similar case filed before the lands court.
The same script was evident in a case surrounding two properties allegedly owned by Gospel of God Church (GGC).
Trustees of that Church sued Moses Kamundi, Gediel Kirimi, Francis Mucheru and Glorious Gospel of God Church( GGGC) over L.R No.209/3012/6, LR No. 209/1542 claiming that there was a plot to illegally sell the two pieces of land.
They wanted temporary orders blocking the four from dealing with the properties.
GGC was registered in Kenya more than 43 years ago. It got a certificate of exemption in 1968. The church however, got into leadership wrangles in between 1984 and 1985 and it was claimed that Kamundi and his team tried to take over the church and expel some of the leaders.
When the wrangles hit the church, the Registrar General cancelled its registration in 1985.
GGC’s trustee in the 2011 case told High Court judge Rose Ougo that Kamundi tried to register another church under Gloria Gospel Church in a bid to inform the registrar that the new church had succeeded the former but it was not registered. This was in 1987.
There was a lull for 17 years and again, in 2004 Kamundu allegedly registered GGGC and one year after amended it to Gospel of God Church International.
The church’s trustee Stephen Motsi told the court that they came to realise that church’s property had been alienated and sold under GGCI .
Motsi claimed that Kamundi succeeded and lands ministry officials could not tell the two churches apart.
On his part, Kamundi who was a pastor in GGC before the split, said the church carried out its election in 1985 and former officials refused to hand over powers and properties under it.
He further told the court that he had taken over power and thus GGCI was not a splinter group but a legitimate church which is recognised by its headquaters in Zimbambwe.
Kamundi also said they hold the church’s properties legitimately and that their accusers are trying to frustrate the church’s mission and benefit from it illegally.
Justice Ougo did not issue temporary orders but instead ordered all parties to present their evidence in full hearing.
“Parties should settle this matter for full hearing for it is apparent from the pleadings that the parties are wrangling over ownership and control of the names of the churches they operate which in effect stems to the ownership of the church properties,” she ruled.