The Nation (Nairobi)

Kenya: Queries Over Sh1.5 Billion Award to Ruto Allies

The Department of Defence may end up paying Sh1.5 billion in a court case reminiscent of the questionable land dealings last witnessed in the Moi-era.

One of the largest court awards in the history of the Judiciary, the case graphically reveals how influential groups made millions from selling land to government departments and parastatals.

Even though the case is basically an ownership row pitting Nairobi businessman Tony Kegode against a group that includes Mr Patrick Osero, a former Youth for Kanu '92 official and close ally of Eldoret North MP William Ruto, the subject matter of the dispute is a piece of land on which stands a key military institution in Embakasi, Nairobi.

Mr Kegode wants to stop the government from paying the colossal amount to Mr Osero and two other businessmen who claim that the 90-acre piece of land on which the Kenya Army Mine Action Training Centre stands belongs to them.

Mr Kegode argues that Mr Osero, Mr Kenneth Boit and Mr James Cheruiyot are imposters out to defraud the military and taxpayers of the amount since they are not directors of Torino Enterprises Limited, which owns the land.

Mr Kegode claims that Mr Osero and his associates instituted the case long after they had resigned from the company, leaving him and Voltaire Kegode as the sole directors.

Mr Kegode has vast business interests in the aviation industry, while Mr Osero sits on the board of the Agricultural Development Corporation.

He also has political interests in Kisii County where he is fronting Mr Ruto's presidential candidature.

Mr Boit is a former military officer, while Mr Cheruiyot, the son of former Permanent Secretary Sila Boit, is a businessman.

Delivering the judgment in a case which was filed, heard and determined in just four months -- one of the shortest in a judicial regime notorious for delayed rulings --High Court judge Jean Gacheche ordered that the government either surrenders the land to Torino Enterprises Ltd or pays Mr Osero and his associates Sh1.5 billion as compensation.

"The respondent shall therefore within the next thirty days, restore the possession of the suit land back to the petitioner in the same condition as it was when it was unlawfully acquired or alternatively to pay the petitioner the sum of Sh1,530,000,000 being the current market value of the said land, as per valuation report produced in court, which valuation and figure was not disputed by the respondent," Justice Gacheche ruled.

This effectively means that the state-of-the-art military institution, reputed for producing some of the best experts in eradicating land mines in Africa and beyond, shall have to be pulled down and re-built elsewhere or in the alternative, the taxpayer shall have to pay Mr Osero and his associates the tidy sum.

The institution was last year awarded the prestigious "Firmin Sword of Peace" award for the special role it has played in eradicating land mines in the world.

Land explosives

The centre has trained close to 6,000 experts to detect and disarm land explosives since 2008.

On Tuesday, Duty Judge Florence Muchemi set aside the award pending the hearing and determination of Mr Kegode's application, which will start on September 21.

Mr Kegode claimed that Mr Osero and his associates instituted the suit without his knowledge.

"The matter is extremely urgent as the judgment directed at the government to either restore possession or pay a colossal amount of Sh1.5 billion within 30 days. The amount is likely to be paid out to strangers thus perpetuating fraud to the court and the public at large," Mr Kegode argues.

Mr Osero and his associates had argued that the military had encroached and hived off the 90-acre piece of land from the original 207 acres parcel of land known as Kayole estate which they had, through Torino, bought from a firm called Renton Company Ltd at Sh12 million.

Renton had allegedly bought the land from the Nairobi City Council.

But the Department of Defence, represented by the Attorney General, maintained that it had compulsorily acquired the land from Nairobi City Council and showed various correspondences between the Ministry of Defence and City Hall.

But Justice Gacheche declared the acquisition unconstitutional.

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