Kenya: A Web of Firms That Shrouds Dci Probe Into Port Tenders

11 January 2020

Mystery shrouds Mitchell Cotts Ltd, the company now disowned by the richest families in the country, who are its registered owners.

SHAREHOLDER

The ownership structure of the Mitchell Cotts string of companies is complex, but at the heart of it is Mitchell Cotts Ltd. A search at the registry reveals that it is owned by companies associated with Baringo Senator Gideon Moi -- through High Trees Ltd -- and others owned by wealthy families such as those of former Cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae and Kenyatta-era Central Bank governor Duncan Ndegwa.

Senator Moi told the Saturday Nation earlier this week that he is neither a shareholder nor a director of Mitchell Cotts Ltd, a position that contradicts the records.

However, Nation investigations also show that he did own shares in Mitchell Cotts Ltd and Mitchell Cotts Kenya Ltd -- the company being investigated by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) -- because the former is a subsidiary of the latter.

AUNTHENTICITY

For their part, the Ndegwa family is equally adamant that it is not in business with Mr Moi and other worthies such as Mr Joshua Kulei, who are also listed as shareholders of Mitchell Cotts Ltd. Never mind that documents from the registrar, whose authenticity sources close to the family have called to question, show that they hold shares in that company through three different entities.

High Trees Ltd, listed as owning 267,271 ordinary shares of Mitchell Cotts Ltd, is owned by Gideon and Zahra Moi, with equal shares.

Mitchell Cotts Ltd was registered in April 2000 and gave its address as Scripture Union Centre, Hurlingham.

On Thursday, sources close to the Ndegwa family were at pains to explain that they had nothing to do with the firm and hinted that it may have been mischievously registered by unknown parties.

Mr Moi yesterday threatened to sue the Nation over the matter.

ECONOMIC CRIMES

The Nation tried to contact Mr Moi on Wednesday, but his aide asked for the questions we wanted to ask the senator. Later, a senior Kanu official called back and said: "Moi was nowhere near Thika Road. He was not summoned and was not questioned. I was with him from 9am in the morning and I can tell you for a fact he was not there. And anyway he is not linked to Mitchell Cotts."

Nation sources said Mr Moi visited Mazingira House, the DCI headquarters on Kiambu Road, on Wednesday morning and was received in Room 82 at the Economic Crimes Unit by a Mr Michael Sang.

Mr Andrew Ndegwa said his family was not involved in any business with the Mois and maintained that they did not know Mitchell Cotts Ltd. Instead, they said the contract under investigation was given to Mitchell Cotts Freight Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitchell Cotts Kenya Ltd, a Ndegwa family business.

Mitchell Cotts made news last year when detectives from the DCI traced 18 vehicles bought using funds meant for the Arror and Kimwarer dams to its warehouse.

INVESTMENTS

Daniel Kipsang Tanui is the managing director of Mitchell Cotts Freights Ltd. He previously worked with Siginon Freight Ltd, associated with the Moi family, as divisional manager before joining Mitchell Cotts Freight.

Records at the companies registry show that the Ndegwas own, either in part or in full, three companies that are active and verified, which are all shareholders in Mitchell Cotts Ltd. These are Mitchell Cotts Investments Ltd, First Chartered Securities Ltd and Makimwa Consultants Ltd.

Mitchell Cotts Kenya Ltd is one of 12 companies that share the Mitchell Cotts name. It is owned by First Chartered Securities Ltd and Makimwa Consultants Ltd.

First Chartered Securities is owned by James Philip Maina Ndegwa and Assets Managers Ltd, the majority shareholder. Mr Nyachae and his family, through Sansora Investments Ltd, are the other owners of Assets Managers.

To complete the ownership of the Mitchell Cotts firm is Makimwa Consultants Ltd, owned by members of the Ndegwa family. Each of the four Ndegwas -- Andrew Ndegwa, Alison Mary Ndegwa, Lesley Ruth Wakini Ndegwa, James Philip Maina Ndegwa -- owns 250 shares in the company that translate to 25 per cent.

The only individual shareholder in Mitchell Cotts Ltd is a Dr Christopher Walter Obura, who owns one share.

Billionaire businessman and banker James Philip Maina Ndegwa is the chairman of NIC Bank, which recently merged with Commercial Bank of Kenya to form NCBA Bank.

The Oxford-educated bank executive is also the chairman of First Chartered Securities and a director at five other companies in the Mitchell Cotts maze.

To calm the nerves of the big transporters who lost business after the standard gauge railway (SGR) launched its operations, the Ministry of Transport and its agencies have been handing contracts to firms related to big transport companies, as an alternative to lost revenues in a bid to reduce resistance to the Jubilee government pet project.

BILLIONAIRES

Last year, truckers held several demonstrations in Mombasa to oppose a directive that forced importers to only use the SGR for cargo destined for Nairobi and beyond.

Many billionaires and shadow businesses who do not want their trade known hide their investments in layers of companies, with one owning the other to make it harder to lift the corporate veil. Ideally, the registrar of companies cannot allow the registration of more than one company sharing a name, to avoid confusion.

Directors of companies that were registered in the manual era, which allowed duplication of names, are also given a chance to change their names to a different one and leave the name for the first entity to be registered to avoid sharing names.

The genesis of the scandal, it appears, goes back to early 2018, when the Treasury set aside Sh3 billion for the purchase of extra land for the Inland Container Depot (ICD) to ease congestion. At that time, the government had just forced importers of goods destined inland to be transported via the SGR and be cleared at the ICD.

DIVERTED

The ICD yard was holding an average of 10,000, 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) at any given time and was receiving between 700 and 800 TEUs daily, translating to about 5,000 containers every week.

But the Kenya Ports Authority, on receiving the Sh3 billion from the Treasury for the extra land next to the ICD, diverted some Sh500 million to concrete a yard belonging to Kenya Railways at Makongeni.

But that was not all. It diverted another Sh2 billion for the dredging of the Mombasa port and was left with just Sh500 million for the original use.

KPA proceeded to uproot the railway line at the Makongeni yard and carried out rehabilitation works though it had not acquired the land officially from Kenya Railways.

CUSTOMS

Nevertheless the Makongeni yard was gazetted as a customs area and given the rights to store uncleared cargo, which had overstayed at the ICD.

"Pursuant to section 12 of the East African Community Customs Management Act, 2004, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Control appoints the place specified as a customs area," said the gazette notice published on October 25, 2018 by Julius Musyoki, the then Commissioner of Customs and Border Control.

Importers whose cargo was taken to the Makongeni yard were to pay a Sh2,000 transfer fee for a 20-foot equivalent unit and Sh3,000 for a 40-foot container.

As if that was not enough, KPA in May 2018 cut the free storage period for containers at the ICD from 11 days to four.

CARGO FEES

This meant that importers whose cargo had not been collected after four days would pay Sh1,500 and Sh2,200 for a 20-foot and a 40-foot container for each day.

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