Revealed: Secrets of tycoon who led a reclusive life

Eng. M'iti Murungi [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Wilfred M’iti Murungi, the Mastermind Tobacco mogul, lived a secluded life. Even in death, the man remained a hush-hush. Any story on his interests, businesses and family was a bolted book, tucked away from the public eye.

Two years after his death, however, the Sunday Standard can reveal who he was, where his interests lay and what ‘ate’ him.

When he died on June 6, 2019, the country could tell much about Murungi's dealings with the cigarettes company and few others in which he served as director. Beyond the names of the companies, only his lawyers and maybe associates knew the stakes he held.

The day he was interred, only a handful, handpicked immediate family members witnessed the burial. He was flown from the city to the remote Magutuni village, Meru County, and in an hour, the closely guarded burial ceremony ended just as it started – a mystery.

The 74-year-old businessman had no Will, thus, and no one seems to know who between his four children did he instruct on how he wanted his final rights taken care of.

What we now know is that Murungi died from pulmonary thromboembolism or simply blood clots in the lungs and which forms in the legs or another part of the body.

Just before he died, Mastermind owed the Kenya Revenue Authority Sh2.9 billion in taxes. The firm, however, penned consent with the taxman to offset the same before Justice Pauline Nyamweya.

Besides the tax row, cigarettes business in the country got a hit after the Government introduced a two per cent levy on all tobacco products, which ought to compensate smokers. The war between the indigenous Kenyan firm, which thrived from Nakuru, its competitor British American Tobacco (BAT), and the Health Ministry ended up in the Supreme Court.

At the heart of the battle was a requirement to disclose the cigarette manufacturing process and a levy known as solatium, which was to go to the cigarette consumers.

In this case, the two firms argued that the Government was unfairly alienating the tobacco industry by closing its eyes on alcohol and fast foods, which have the same lethal effect on the human body.

Murungi was a former BAT employee who walked out to compete for the cigarettes space dominated by the British firm.

Since the 1970s, the BAT was the sole producer of cigarettes in Kenya. However, in 1988 Mastermind was established, with the launch of Supermatch in 1989, while Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds International entered the market in 1996.

Cut Tobacco was established in 1995 to import cigarettes for re-export to Somalia and Ethiopia but the company closed in 2003.

Currently, the tobacco market is dominated by few producers engaging in never-ending rivalry for market share, while some of the brands are imported into the country. As of 2015, the largest market share was held by BAT at 78 per cent, followed by Mastermind at 20.3 per cent.

Court documents reveal that besides an interest in cigarette making, Murungi had his hands in the alcohol industry.

Although the engineer who set up the Supermatch brand manufacturer was largely known for it, the firm is not listed as one of his earthy chattels.

Documents in our possession say Murungi left the earth debt-free. Estimation of his wealth reveals that he was worth Sh213 million.

He appears to have divested his interest in manufacturing and in turn set his eyes on real estate, buying acres and acres of land as far as in Uganda.

The father of four had two pieces of land in Mengo, Kyadondo, in Uganda. One piece is estimated to be worth Sh44 million while the second is Sh33 million. The Ugandan properties, alongside another one in Nairobi, estimated to be worth Sh100 million, are the most priced assets he had in his lifetime.

He had also acquired 17 parcels of land in Magutuni, Meru, and each is valued at Sh150,000. Another piece of land in Chuka was also estimated to be worth the same amount. The businessman had two pieces of land in Mosiro, Kajiado County, priced at Sh6 million each.

Justice George Dulu last year allowed his children Audrey Wanja, Angela Muthoni, Allan Nyaga and Eric Mugambi to share all his wealth equally.

However, Nyaga, who is the Third Born, got an extra two shares from one of the companies.

“I hereby certify that the above-written grant of representation to the estate of the late Wilfred M’iti Murungi issued to Audrey Wanja Murungi and Eric Mugambi Murungi has been confirmed by the court pursuant to the provisions of section 71 of Law of Succession Act,” the judge ruled.

Murungi was also interested in power distribution and marketing. According to the documents, he held 980 shares in NGM Company Limited located at Mastermind Tobacco Complex in Nairobi, estimated to be with Sh980,000.

Murungi was also a director of Mitithiru Holdings Limited, holding 40 shares worth Sh40,000. Meanwhile, in Greenlands Agroproducers EPZ, a horticulture export company, he held 90 shares worth Sh7,200.

The deceased also had 29,000 shares in Nanyuki Ranching Limited worth Sh580,000. Each share is estimated to be around 17 acres of land.

Besides land and agriculture, he had an interest in communication and public relations; he invested in TV Africa Holding Limited and held 250,000 shares.

Murungi had shares in East Africa Breweries Limited (10,260) and Sierra Premium Breweries (200 shares valued at Sh20,000). On its website, Sierra claims to be the first boutique brewery and restaurant in East and Central Africa and is inspired by the experiences of the founder in Thailand, California and Bavaria.

The former Athi River Mining director had also bought nine shares in Majewa Farm, 158 shares in Wangu Investment Limited, two shares in Ozzbeco Kenya Limited (a wholly Kenyan owned brewery) and 960 shares in Tannel World Limited.

He had interests in the banking industry too. Court documents reveal that he held 300,000 shares in Key Microfinance Bank Limited. Murungi had eight bank accounts with at least Sh3.4 million. He also owned nine shares in Majewa Farm Limited and an unknown amount of shares in Pillars Holding Limited.