Firm opposes state plan to auction Desai House

Desai House in Parklands, Nairobi. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The fight for the iconic Sh600 million Desai House in Parklands, Nairobi, has taken a new twist after a company opposed the government's move to declare it a national monument.

Suchan Investments Limited, which is claiming a 50 per cent stake in the late freedom fighter JM Desai’s property, wants the house auctioned and the proceeds divided among the beneficiaries as ordered by the court.

“The government is not a party to the dispute relating to the property’s ownership and cannot be allowed to come late in the day with an application to have Desai House re-gazetted as a national monument,” the company said in its application filed through lawyer AGN Kamau.

According to the company, the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts is abusing the court process to prolong the dispute that has escalated since 2008 between it and the late Desai’s descendants Dipa Pulling and Sandeep Rajni Desai. The company asked the court to dismiss an application filed by the ministry to save the iconic pre-colonial house from being auctioned and allow the public auction to proceed on July 12.

The Desai House, which sits on 1.7 acres in Parklands, was constructed in 1937 after Desai migrated to Kenya from India.

Desai House in Parklands, Nairobi. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Before his death in 1991, Desai bequeathed the property to his two children, Dipa Pulling and Niranjan Jashbhai Desai, and his two grandchildren Sandeep Rajni Desai and Kevit Subash Desai. Each was to hold a quarter share.

In 2016, Niranjan and Kevit sold their combined half share to Suchan Investments Limited, leading to the dispute over ownership.

Since the parties could not agree, Justice Samson Okong’o, in November 2019, ruled that since Niranjan and Kevit had sold their shares, the private developers also had a stake and they all own the Desai House as tenants in common.

In April, the court issued an order that the property be sold through a public auction at a reserve price of Sh412 million and the money divided among the beneficiaries.

But the government in May filed another application to stop the auction arguing that they are in process of gazetting Desai House as a national monument and warned any potential buyers from placing their bids. [Paul Ogemba]

“The National Museums of Kenya wishes to notify the public and all interested parties that the building known as Desai House and the surrounding compound was gazetted as a national monument and remains a protected property,” said the ministry.

Desai House in Parklands, Nairobi. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

But the company wants the application dismissed arguing that it is n attempt to deny it from enjoying their share of the property which they acquired from Desai’s children.

According to Kamau, the ministry of sports and culture has no capacity to sue private individuals and since the court judgment on the auction has never been overturned, they wasting the court’s time with a frivolous application.

“Their application to stop the public auction is incompetent, bad in law and cannot be sustained. The issues they are raising over the property being a national monument had been determined and cannot be reopened,” said Kamau.

Keysian Auctioneers last week advertised the property’s sale by public auction on Tuesday next week and asked interest bidders to deposit Sh10 million.