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How you could lose millions to crafty Murang’a cartels

By Mwangi Muiruri | March 5th 2020


Murang’a County Lands office where complaints of fraud have been registered. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

Murang’a County is reported to be home to cartels that are swindling potential land buyers of millions of shillings.

The fraudsters have opened shop in major towns within the county and have launched intensive marketing drives promising mouthwatering prices for land in strategic locations and attractive payments terms.

Their con game is spurred by inflationary land prices that draw speculators as well as property developers.

According to property agents, land prices in the county have appreciated by between 200 and 500 per cent in the past 10 years owing to extensive roads upgrade, electricity connection and the recently proposed revival of the Nanyuki-Nairobi railway, which snakes its way through the county.

“Further, projects of the county government such as a milk plant in Maragua town, markets, horticulture processing plants as well as drilling of boreholes has seen even the remotest parts of the county start to gain currency,” says Francis Mbogo of New Generation Property Consultants in Murang’a town.

As a result, he says, the area has become appealing to both agribusiness and home developers but also to fraudsters, he says.

“The sector is operating in a veil of confusion where corruption is the engine that is resulting in public utility plots being sold off to private developers.”

Mr Mbogo says land brokers are also charging rates way above the value, resulting to major price distortion.

“That might not be an issue since after all business deals are on willing buyer-willing seller principle. But most of these land deals will never get through because at inception, the scheme is to con,” he told Home & Away.

Some of the tricks used are selling one plot to as many as 10 buyers or demanding consultancy fees of 10 per cent of property value upfront, with the brokers disappearing after receiving the cash.

Legitimate owners of land also use brokers to advertise the property for sale but upon pocketing the cash, they file court cases to evict the buyers.

“It is a big network that has sprouted all of a sudden and impoverished many. Some of the fraudsters have even placed media advertisements inviting developers to buy property in the area in installments,” Mbogo says.

He says the hook is that one can pay as little as Sh1,000 per month for a prime plot until the amount hits Sh50,000 then get the title deed.

“Most people have fallen prey to this trick and have ended up getting shocked upon realising they were conned.”

Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria recently said the area has witnessed a major distortion in land prices owing to manipulative influence of the fraudsters.

Avoid careless risks

“My appeal to all interested developers is that you exercise utmost diligence when entering into property deals in this region. While we are working hard to kick those cartels out, it would help a great deal if buyers were to avoid careless risks,” he said during the unveiling of an affordable housing project at Kabati.

Mr Wa Iria said all interested developers should cross-check validity of land deals through professionals such as lawyers and surveyors.

“We have since established a desk at the county headquarters where we can be offering assistance in verifying the deals,” he said.

Murang’a County Property Sector Alliance Chairman Moses Muigai says the government must take full charge of the sector before it is transformed into “a depression and suicide hub for conned developers.”

He says the government’s hand in advancing land fraud cannot be ignored.

“We have open cases of government officers especillay is the defunct provincial administration engaging in land grabbing as well as dispossessing vulnerable members of the community of their land. Government is very active in the land grabbing spree being witnessed in ranches such as Kihiu Mwiri,” says Mr Muigai.

He says 389 property fraud cases have so far been reported to police and the county government over the past one year.

“Some other 2,500 cases are in court where developers were grouped into savings and credit cooperative societies (saccos) to pool resources and buy properties. Those saccos were deliberately dissolved in criminal processes so that the initiators can pocket the pooled resources,” says Muigai.

“At this rate, we can easily say that the property sector in Murang’a County is irredeemably flawed and the best we can do is to suspend it until a sane legal structure of engagement is enacted.”

The Lands ministry says the situation is not unique to Murang’a and is replicated in many parts of the country.

Lands Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri says the government is addressing the risk through migrating all land transactions into a digital platform and weeding out cartels that have been manipulating verification processes.

“I cannot deny that for a long time land transactions have been hijacked by cartels that have officers compromised to clean property profiles of debts, caveats and court cases hence certifying them to be open for transfers,” he told Home & Away.

He says sanitising the sector will be long and hard, and that is the reason why the government has banned developments based on allotment letters.

“Allotment letters have been used in our property sector to give fraudsters a license of ownership,” he says.  

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