Former employees of the defunct Kakamega Municipal Council could be preying on unsuspecting land seekers, duping them to pay "lease renewal" fees only to find the land has been allocated to another entity.
The Nation learnt that these crooks masquerade as employees of the Lands Ministry or county government and ask for fees ranging from Sh200,000 to Sh500,000 to facilitate certification of parcels of land in the county.
For Mr Nelson Esabwe, a simple move to authenticate land in Kakamega County left him in shock after he lost money to a group of people who had made him believe they would facilitate the process.
"The cartels are usually stationed at the lands offices waiting for unsuspecting land owners seeking renewal of leases," Mr Esabwe, who said he paid Sh500,000 only to learn that his plot had not been re-registered in his name, said.
Witnesses said the group breaks down the charges into various segments so that victims won't realise they are being duped.
They charge surveying fees, certification fees, county land rates and overall lease renewal fees.
Another resident said the cartel demanded Sh150,000 upfront.
"They seem to collude with genuine officials because they understand the processes involved," the victim who declined to be named as he is one of the main traders in town said.
He was renewing his plot of land measuring 50 feet by 100 feet and was asked to pay Sh200,000.
The extent of fraud could not be immediately determined but witnesses said the group mainly targets Asian traders, some of whom have inherited leased land.
Unlike incidents in Nairobi where gangs forcibly evict owners, in Kakamega the cartels target land fees, which could also deny the county government revenue.
Recently, the county government said it would review land leases whose terms are expiring soon to ensure cartels do not take advantage of it.
Mr Alfred Matianyi, the county executive for lands, said they had set up a committee to recommend ways of dealing with expiring land leases.
"The new procedure will make it difficult for cartels to take advantage of the process," he said.
National Lands Commission officials however blame owners for taking short-cuts.
"They approach cartels who promise to help facilitate the process," an NLC official said.