Two peasant sisters, two powers of attorney and a pending Sh12.5 billion payout for 50 acres near Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). These are the ingredients of a major fallout playing out like a scene borrowed from a classic film on betrayal and backstabbing.
At the centre of the long-running saga are two sisters who booted their lawyers and disowned a legal pact they had signed seven years ago.
The implosion started on September 4 this year when Litha Katumbi Kathumba, 76, and Amina Mbula Kathumba aged 60 wrote a letter revoking the power of attorney they had given to Jackson Mutua Kimani.
The revocation also affected seven agents, nominated to act on Kimani's behalf. They are Samuel Mureithi Mugambi, Francis Kimani Rugaji, Paul Kamau Mwangi, John Katua Mutua, Ronald Syuma Mutuku, Joel Njoroge Kamiri and Samuel Kihahu.
The power of attorney had been granted by the sisters on September 23, 2013 and the agents were to help them pursue compensation for a 49.7-acre piece of land next to JKIA along Mombasa Road.
The land originally belonged to the sisters' father, John Kathumba, who had acquired it in 1958 before it was seized by JKIA without compensation. Kathumba died in 1989 and left his estate in the hands of one of his wife, Beatrice Syokau Kathumba.
Syokau unsuccessfully pursued the government for compensation. She was abducted in 2010 and held incommunicado for three years. Her family found her on her death bed at Kenyatta National Hospital on July 3, 2014, a discovery that sparked a legal tussle to establish what had killed her.
Syokau's body would remain in the mortuary for five long years as several parties fought for the right to bury her.
Before her death, Syokau had started the process of claiming 60,000 acres adjacent to the airport, which she said belonged to Kathumba.
The battle over Syokau's property was aptly captured by Makadara Chief Magistrate Heston Nyaga who was presiding over the inquest to determine how she died when he remarked:
“Like vultures circle a carcass in the wild, people who are not even relatives of the deceased took centre-stage in planning her burial which was stopped twice by the court. These people were only interested in what the deceased stood to gain in her court case in which she sought to be recognised as having interest in the land."
The sisters, with the help of the agents, filed a claim for their father's property with the National Land Commission (NLC). On January 21, 2019, the NLC declared that Litha and Amina were the legitimate owners of the land occupied by the airport.
Consequently, EW Kamuyu and Company Advocates took up the matter of writing to various government departments on behalf of the sisters demanding compensation.
In one such letter dated May 6, 2020, the lawyer wrote to the Lands, Transport and Treasury Cabinet Secretaries and stated, "Since August 2019, your respective ministries have been working towards compensation. As recently as March 11, 2020, the National Treasury CS Ukur Yatani did state the issue of pending bills would be resolved at the end of March 2020."
It continued, "This has not happened to date. We have not received compensation on behalf of our clients."
With each acre priced at Sh250 million for a total of Sh12.5 billion, the agents and the lawyer appointed by Mr Kimani were waiting for a sizeable payout for various services rendered.
By mutual consent, once the agents succeeded in reclaiming the land, LR. No. 21919, they were supposed to get a share of the final compensation.
The two sisters who had not spent a cent in the process were to get 38.66 percent of the payout, a law firm was to get 25 percent while one agent, Mr Mwangi, was to get 23.33 per cent. Kimani, who had the power of attorney, was entitled to 9.1 per cent while one Pius Kioko Muinde was to get four per cent.
Mwangi said they had fulfilled their contractual obligations on February 15 last year when the NLC gazetted its finding to the effect that the sisters were genuine claimants of 20.12 hectares (about 50 acres).
The commission further directed that 11 title deeds for parcels of land hived off from the chunk the Kathumba's were claiming be cancelled. This was after observing that the claimants were valid squatters.
But to their rude shock, instead of getting the anticipated billions, the agents, law firm and Kimani received a letter from Maingi Musyimi and Company Advocates addressed to EW Kamuyu.
The letter dated September 4, 2020 stated, "Our instructions are that the power of attorney donated to one Jackson Mutua Kimani has since been revoked and that your instructions along those of the seven appointed agents terminated."
Musyimi said they had received the instructions last year and asked Kamuyu to give a breakdown of her charges for representing Litha and Amina before the NLC, with the pledge that she would be paid for professional services rendered.
"Kindly forward a breakdown of your fees for consideration whereof if the same is disputed then you have a right to file in court an advocate-client bill."
It also emerged that three days earlier, on September 1, the sisters had written to Kamuyu and terminated her contract along with any instructions granted to the agents.
"On September 23, 2013, through misrepresentation, Jackson Mutua Kimani caused us to donate a power of attorney which we have since revoked," said the sisters.
The letter continued, "In 2013, you indicated you were in a position to pursue compensation on behalf of the family. Since the engagement, you completely estranged us from the process and the promises you had made were never fulfilled. We later found that there was fraudulent mischief."
"Kindly therefore desist from any further dealings in the matter. We have already appointed another form of advocate to represent us."
The letter was copied to the ministries of Land and Transport, the Kenya Airports Authority, the Office of the President and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
Legal experts explained that a power of attorney can be invalidated by the donor after consulting the other parties, or if the purpose for what it had been established had been fulfilled.
"If a person determines that the holder of the power of attorney had committed fraud, breached trust or misrepresented the donor, the instrument can be cancelled. But you cannot invalidate a power of attorney just when it is about to achieve its purpose," said SK Muturi, a lawyer based in Nairobi.