A three-year-old court battle for ownership of a multibillion-shilling property in Mombasa between German investor Wilfred Gurnther and his two children has ended prematurely after the tycoon died in his hotel.
Gurnther's death throws into confusion the hotly contested proprietorship and management of the property.
He has been undergoing treatment in Germany and occasionally flying into the country for the hearing of the case.
The 76-year-old died on Saturday, leaving the row on the ownership of Sh2 billion Papillion Garden Bar Villa pending before the High Court in Mombasa.
His death comes barely two years after he pleaded with the court to expedite the hearing of the dispute due to his deteriorating health.
Gurnther developed health complications in 2019, shortly after filing the case against his two children, Mr Ronny Patric Herbert and Ms Jeanie Notalie Boehlig, whom he accused of dislodging him from the ownership of the property.
The slow wheels of justice, however, coupled with continuous adjournments, have seen the man die before his wishes were fulfilled.
Feared for his life
In an emotional court session, the foreigner pleaded with Justice Patrick Otieno, who was handling the matter then, to "kindly" conclude the dispute as he feared for his life.
"I want this matter out of the court before I die, I have not been feeling well for a while now," an emotional Gurnther told the judge in March 2019.
Baffled by the emotional plea, Justice Otieno encouraged him, assuring him that he was not going to die "any soon", and that God was with him.
On Tuesday, the court was shocked to learn that Gurnther had died three days earlier in one of the rooms inside the facility in Bamburi, along the Mombasa- Malindi Highway.
His advocate, Mr Robinson Malondo, told Justice Njoki Mwangi, who is currently handling the dispute, that the German investor breathed his last on April 10.
"It is very unfortunate the plaintiff died on Saturday and has been cremated," said the advocate, adding that he had left a will and a power of attorney. He, however, said the fallen investor's appointee would pursue the case.
The issue of the will was, however, immediately contested by his two children, who denied knowledge of the alleged document.
Fraudulently transferring shares
"We are not aware of the power of attorney and the alleged will because we are the only surviving children of the deceased," they said through their advocate, Mr Lawrence Obonyo.
"I need to remind you (Patric and Notalie) that the deceased was your father despite the case he had filed against you. I pray for you as you recover from that loss," Justice Mwangi told the two, who joined the virtual court session from Germany.
Due to the new development, the court adjourned the matter because legally, the case against the two has abated unless and until the deceased's name is substituted.
"This case will be adjourned due to the passing on of the plaintiff. Since the dispute was pitting a parent against his children, I wish that whoever will pick it up will consider mediation," said Justice Mwangi.
The investor had accused his children of fraudulently transferring his shares in Hanos (K) Ltd, the company that owns and runs the facility.
Gurnther had informed the court that a fraud had been committed before he was removed from the directorship of the company while he was away in his country.
He had insisted he had never signed any document to transfer his shares to anyone, terming fraudulent and a forgery the process that led to his removal from the shareholding of the firm.
Evidence of manipulation
"I left the country in 1998 and only came back in 2009. I never signed any document transferring my shares to any other individual. Moreover, I never resigned as a director of Hanos (K) Ltd)," he claimed in his court documents.
But his children argue their father sold 99 of his shares to their mother on June 7, 1998 for Sh99,000 and transferred the rest to them before resigning. They say he automatically ceased being a shareholder of the company.
The two argue their father not only sold the shares to their mother but also divorced her before her death.
A forensic report from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) tabled in court indicates Gurnther did not sign documents that led to the transfer of his shares from the company.
"My findings were that the questioned signatures were not made by the same author as compared to specimen signatures and the known ones of Mr Gurnther," the report by Head of Forensic Documents Examination Section John Muinde said.
Mr Muinde further said in the report that the copies supplied for examination were highly reliable to make an authentic opinion because they did not have evidence of manipulation and were first-generation clear copies.
The report concluded forgery was committed to defraud the now deceased complainant.