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Kanyotu widows lose battle for Sh10 billion land

By Dominic Omondi | Sep 28th 2020 | 3 min read

The family of the late spymaster James Kanyotu has suffered a blow after a court ruled that two of his widows have no right to a Sh10 billion disputed property.

And in what was a double tragedy for the estate of Kanyotu, Justice Lucy Gacheru on September 24 also barred Kanyotu’s two widows and son from interfering with the property, currently registered to Marriot Africa International Limited.

Kanyotu’s family has opposed the acquisition of the 500 acres from Kangaita Coffee Estate, where the now-deceased spy man was the majority shareholder, to Trendsetters Investments Limited on April 19, 2012, arguing that the transfer of the title of the land was fraudulent.

Two years after allegedly buying the parcel, Trendsetters sold it to Marriot, who then sub-divided the prime land into sub-plots and sold them to third parties. Some of these plots have since been developed, the court heard.  

Marriot had filed a notice of motion at the Environment and Land Court in Thika, Kiambu County, seeking an injunction against Kanyotu’s two widows - Margaret Nyakinyua Murigu and Mary Wanjiku Kanyotu, his son Willy Kihara and Kangaita Coffee Estate Limited, from interfering with the land.

The two widows brought a counterclaim seeking to recover the Sh10 billion property from Marriot.

They also sought a permanent injunction, asking the court to freeze the title deeds of the disputed property until the case was determined.

However, Justice Gacheru struck out their suits, ruling that only Kangaita Coffee Estate Limited, where Kanyotu was a shareholder, had the right to sue and not the estate of Kanyotu.

She said the interest of the family did not extend to the land, which was owned by the company, but the shares that Kanyotu owned in the company.

“It is important to note that the said Kangaita Coffee Estate Limited is a company that is distinct from its shareholders,” said Gacheru.

She said while the two brought the suit on behalf of Kangaita, whose alter ego was Kanyotu, this could only be done by the company itself, which is separate from its shareholders.

Attempts by the administrators of Kanyotu’s estate to curtail the use of the title of the land also hit a wall, with the court finding that Marriott had since established that it was so far the registered owner of the disputed property.

“The plaintiff/applicant (Marriott) being the prima facie owner of the suit property and given that it has further alleged that the defendants/respondents are interfering with their use and enjoyment over the said suit property, then it is not in doubt that its rights over the suit property (being the right of  being in quiet possession) have allegedly been infringed upon by the defendants/respondents by the various adverts and caveat emptors that have been placed in the newspapers,” she said in the ruling.

The estate of Kanyotu is reported to have put up an advert in the local newspapers warning potential buyers against entering into any sale agreement for the purchase of land in the disputed property. The estate is administered by his widows Wanjiku, Jane Gathoni Muraya Kanyotu, and Nyakinyua. 

Marriot, through one of its directors, Abdul Dawood Hassan, said it had acquired a clean title, accusing the estate of Kanyotu of trying to acquire the suit property through extra-judicial means by threatening the sub-plots owners with eviction notices and warning the public against buying the parcels.

Wanjiku is said to have pocketed Sh65,160,804 as a share of her sale of the property, according to an affidavit sworn by Mr Hassan.

Hassan also noted that Wanjiku promised to withdraw the case upon receipt of another Sh30 million. Mr Kihara, on his part, received Sh39 million as final payment for the land.

He said that Trendsetters Investments Limited was only buying a part of the property and that there was going to be subdivision of the suit property.

He argued that there was no way Marriot would have been able to acquire ownership of the whole suit property while the party it allegedly bought the property from did not have full ownership of the said property.

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