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Final take: Chasing Samuel Kamau Wanjiru's millions

NATIONAL
By Amos Kareithi | May 12th 2021
In an Aug. 24, 2008 file photo, Kenya's Samuel Kamau Wanjiru celebrates winning the gold during the men's marathon at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. [Courtesy]

Like the morning dew exposed to the harsh rays of the January sun, the millions melted.

There would be nocturnal bank withdrawals followed by fistfuls of millions of shillings dished out to adoring fans and conniving friends as well as total strangers.

This was before the disaster. 

The tragedy played out until the last day.

On the night Samuel Kamau Wanjiru died, he had been keen to get Sh2 million remitted by his foreign agents.

But he was delayed by hours of binge drinking and partying from Eldoret, through Nakuru, to Nyahururu.

During his better days, land brokers lay in wait, striking just when the drinks had started taking effect on him. Under the cover of psychedelic neon lights, atop tables with bottles of beer, the pen kissed the paper where skewed sale agreements had been drafted.

The loud cheers and clinking of glass signified yet another purchase.

Although the jury is still out on whether the marathoner was a penniless millionaire on the day he died, on May 15, 2011, some of the people who knew him swear he was a frequent visitor to shylocks who were only too happy to advance him money against some pricey collateral.

Wahome Ndegwa, during an interview at Nyahururu Golf Club, on March 4, 2021. He was Triza’s lawyer during the inquest of the late Samuel Kamau Wanjiru. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The athlete’s long-time friend and lawyer, Wahome Ndegwa, says although Wanjiru was making a lot of money, he lived a tragic life.

“He had not really matured. He was almost being worshiped by the public because of his new status and he could not deal with this. He was a very good man, innocent but naïve,” says Ndegwa, who inked Wanjiru’s first purchase of property.

“He ate life with a big spoon and this brought calamity. I remember warning him not to be like Tupac Shakur, the US megastar and billionaire who died early. Wanjiru promised to change his reckless lifestyle but he ran out of time.”

Ndegwa recalls instances when he would be called late at night to bars in Nyahururu, Nakuru or Ol Kalou to rescue Wanjiru from disputes with revellers.

His client would at times cause accidents. In some cases, his car would roll just because Wanjiru was drunk, and it cost him money.

And whenever the marathoner strode into a bar, the waitstaff and the owner had a reason to smile. Many a time he would spend Sh100,000  in a single night, and some of the bills were just fictitious.

“He would go to several pubs at night and end up paying bills of up to Sh400,000. This was a big problem and we tried to tame the spending and even organised several meetings with him and his Italian manager,” Ndegwa says.

According to the lawyer, Wanjiru was under so much pressure that he was almost married off to a woman who was also an athlete.

The woman was treated by Wanjiru’s family like his second wife and Triza Njeri, his first love, knew about her.

She lived a shouting distance from Wanjiru’s matrimonial home in Muthaiga where Wanjiru had also bought his mother, Hannah, a bungalow.

Samuel Wanjiru and Triza Njeri. [Courtesy]

Financial and marital problems

Such conflicts spilled over to Wanjiru’s home and almost ended tragically in December 2010 when Njeri confronted him.

Wanjiru threatened her with a rifle, which, as it later turned out, was in his hands illegally.

This gun would play a central role in Wanjiru’s financial and marital problems as it led to the police raiding his premises where a safe alleged to have his life’s savings was found.

The gun, some sources indicated, had been given to Wanjiru by a group of “friends” who admired his exploits.

The friends, from a neighbouring county, were cattle rustlers.

The controversial safe, Ndegwa said, measured approximately three by three feet. It was seized by the police on December 29, 2010 from Wanjiru’s bedroom.

They claimed the marathoner had refused to open it and suspected that was where he was hiding the magazine for the illegal rifle.

There are varying versions about the contents of the safe.

Mother of the late Olympic champion Hannah Kamau Wanjiru seated in the corridors of Milimani Law Courts awaiting the start of her son’s death inquest. [George Njunge, Standard]

The lawyer says he was present when it was opened and that it had no money. “When the safe was opened, it had only title deeds, documents and jewelry belonging to Wanjiru’s wife. There were also agreements for purchase of some property.”

But Jasper Ombati, who was at the time Nyandarua OCPD, says when the safe was opened in his presence at Nyahururu Police Station, it was full of dollars.

He says the safe was opened in the presence of a lawyer who had the combination of the lock. The dollar bills, Ombati told the inquest probing Wanjiru’s death, had a red mark.

Hannah told Francis Andayi, who is presiding over the inquest, that the safe contained over Sh60 million.

She also claimed some of her son’s assets had been disposed of by Njeri and the lawyer.

Samuel Wanjiru's home in Nyahururu on March 5, 2021. Wanjiru died early Monday, May 16, 2011, after jumping from a balcony, police said. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

It was on this account that she had Ndegwa blocked from acting for Njeri in the inquest, saying there was a likelihood he would be called to testify.

But Ndegwa has dismissed these accusations, saying he had not been involved in any sales. Njeri too has separately denied the accusations.

According to Ndegwa, Wanjiru was penniless in his last days and survived on loans from shylocks.

“At that time, Wanjiru was running on empty. He had no cash. He would come to me requiring Sh3,000. At one point, he went to a shylock in Ol Kalou and got Sh600,000 after offering the title for a parcel of land.

The lawyer added: “Wanjiru did an ugly agreement stipulating that if he did not pay the money, the loan would attract a 30 per cent interest per month.

"At this time, he was not running and had no money. The loan skyrocketed to Sh1 million and Kamau had to surrender the fully developed parcel of land to the shylock.”

Samuel Wanjiru's home. [Courtesy]

Depression

On sensing his client was slipping into depression, Ndegwa says he organised with Wanjiru’s manager to send Sh2 million to assist the marathoner offset some of the pending bills.

This money was sent to Wanjiru’s dollar account in Nyahururu. He died before he had withdrawn it and, according to the lawyer, it would take more than nine years to secure the money from the bank.

On the Sunday he died, he was expected to link up with the lawyer so they could withdraw the money and run some errands, among them preparing to relocate to the US together with his family.

The battle for Wanjiru’s millions has been long and vicious. At one point, Judy Wambui, who claimed to be the marathoner’s wife, demanded a DNA test in her efforts to have a boy she claimed was Wanjiru’s included in the runner’s estate.

Wanjiru’s lawyer recalls how some of the property he bought was never documented. In some cases, some of the property were partly paid for and later reverted to the sellers. One of these was a 10-acre piece of land in Kariamu, near Ol Kalou. It had no documents.

In another incident, the marathoner bought some property in Karen where his family had been living at some point. This property was partly paid for and when Wanjiru died, the seller refused to release it and did not also return the down payment.

The marathoner had also bought a commercial building in Nyahururu town but did not have all the documentation. Another residential plot at Core Site also vanished under similar circumstances.

The crown of Wanjiru’s estate was a three-floor apartment at Section 58 in Nakuru town, which he had appropriately named The Nest.

“Kamau bought all his assets on impulse and at times I learnt about these deals from Triza. I would pursue Kamau and nudge him to pursue the owners to get all the documents,” says Ndegwa.

Samuel Kamau's widow Triza Njeri, during an interview with The Standard on March 6, 2021. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Njeri, who in happier days slept in her mother-in-law’s rented two-bedroom apartment at Core Site, remembers Wanjiru’s first asset. He bought the house where his mother was renting and surrendered it to her.

The following year, in 2006, Wanjiru bought a bungalow on a quarter acre plot in Muthaiga estate for his mother. In the same year, the marathoner built a house for his grandparents in Ol Kalou.

He started constructing his home in 2007. This was after he bought a quarter acre plot in Muthaiga, not far from his mother’s house.

The five-bedroom mansion Wanjiru built was tastefully furnished. “I supervised the building of this house, which took five months. We flew to Dubai to buy all the household items in January 2008. I think we spent about Sh5 million for all the items,” Njeri recalls.

A year before his death, Wanjiru bought a three-bedroom house in Ngong, which would serve as a holiday home. He also had a home in Karen but this is gone.

Njeri says she was never given an opportunity to mourn her husband. Between 2013 and 2016, Njeri says, she received threats from some of her husband’s closest friends when she tried to follow up on the property.

“One friend called me and threatened that I would soon follow my husband to the grave if I persisted with my pursuits for his property. There is a plot in Naivasha, which we are unable to reclaim,” she says.

But was Wanjiru really penniless when he died? Njeri says this is just propaganda. “If he had no money, where would I be today? If I can pay Sh200,000 per term for my two children’s school fees, how can you say Wanjiru was broke?“

Jimrock restaurant, where the late Olympic champion Samuel Wanjiru had the last drink before his dead in 2011. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Leaning on her left side on account of a stroke she suffered, Njeri defends her husband, saying, “Wanjiru invested well for his children.

"Some of his friends have become enemies because they have refused to pay back what they owed him. I have lost a lot of things but I have nevertheless finished some of the projects he had started.”

Among the assets the widow lost are three vehicles, tractors and two pieces of land.

“The society is very unkind to widows. I have been through a lot of trauma and I would not wish anybody else to go through such pain. I have also remained single for I wouldn’t want to expose my children to any more suffering,” says Njeri.

Despite all the pain and the losses, Njeri says she will forever cherish the six years she lived with Wanjiru.

“The foreign agents, managers and companies have forsaken Wanjiru. The government too broke all the promises it made during his burial. But I will never forsake the father of my children,” Njeri says.

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