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Koinange family property dispute drags into 2018

The renowned extended Koinange family ushered 2018 with their complicated property disputes unresolved. The Court of Appeal has once again directed the families of former powerful Cabinet minister, the late Mbiyu Koinange and his younger brother, former Provincial Commissioner Charles Karuga Koinange, to iron out their differences in the High Court.

The estates of both fallen polygamists are being administered by widows, siblings and children who are yet to agree on how to distribute the massive inheritance comprising lucrative shares in blue-chip companies and valuable land holdings in Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Mombasa and Embu counties.

In the latest twist to the long-drawn legal showdown, the three-member Appellate bench ruled that Karuga, who died on February 20, 2004, did not make a valid written will dated June 16, 1999 and his estate can only be administered in accordance with the law.

The late Karuga suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and lacked the mental capacity to make an elaborate nine-page will, Justices Philip Waki, Asike-Makhandia and William Ouko ruled last Friday and concurred with findings made on January 22, 2015 by High Court Judge Luka Kimaru.

However, the court directed that the shares held by the deceased in the expansive family land in Kiambaa, and in any other limited liability companies, if not agreed upon by family members, would be determined on available evidence during the administration of the estate.

“Isabella Wanjiku Karanja, William Kihara Karuga, Samuel Karuga Koinange and Peter Mbiyu Koinange are lawfully appointed as administrators of the estate of the deceased and shall be issued with full grant of letters of administration,” the court ordered in a 35-page judgment.

Karuga’s first wife, the late Grace, bore him six sons—former Permanent Secretary Dr Wilfred Karuga Koinange, John Miring’u, Paul Mbiyu, Leonard Kang’ethe, William Kihara and Ernest Ngugi-and four daughters—Mary Wanjira, Marion Wambui, Isabella Wanjiku and Rosemary Gachiku.

In 1960, Karuga married a second wife, Mary Njoki with whom they had son Peter Mbiyu and daughter Jaine Wambui. Karuga and Njoki fell out and had an acrimonious divorce process that culminated on March 8, 1994 when the marriage was formally dissolved.

It was followed by property disputes that were yet to be concluded when Karuga died. On November 24, the Court of Appeal declared that Margaret Njeri and Eddah Wanjiru were legitimate widows of the late Mbiyu Koinange and deserved to inherit his estate.

The three-judge Bench ruled there was no evidence to prove that the late Koinange divorced Margaret after having solemnised their marriage on March 20, 1971. They had simply separated and lived apart until Koinange died on September 3, 1981, the court observed. The court said Eddah started living with the late Koinange in November 1975, but the couple did not have any children.

“We are satisfied that there was a lot of evidence indicating that the family of the deceased itself treated and held out Eddah as a wife and later widow of the deceased,” said Appellate Judges Philip Waki, Asike-Makhandia and Kathurima M’Inoti.

However, the court dispossessed Eddah’s daughter, Sylvia, who was born on November 25, 1981 after Koinange’s death since she failed to prove her paternity during the hearing of the long-drawn dispute in the High Court and she does not deserve to inherit from the estate.

“There is no evidence that Sylvia is a biological child and beneficiary of the deceased,” the court held and excluded her from the list of 17 children and grandchildren. Eddah will be at liberty to keep her family home in Kiambaa since it forms part of the late Koinange’s estate and 11,000 shares in Ocean View Beach Hotel in Mombasa that were validly transferred to her, the court said in the 101-page judgment.

The court ruled that the controversial 4,292 Muthera Farm in Mau Narok belongs to the late Koinange’s estate and will be available for distribution among the beneficiaries since its abortive sale for Sh214 million to Impulse Developers Ltd was not sanctioned by the local land control board.

High Court Judge Joseph Musyoka had nullified the transaction that was effected on October 26, 2005 and the transfer of the property concluded on May 22, 2006. The court directed administrators of the estate to transfer 4.5 acres of land in Thimbigua, Kiambu County to Tangulizi Ventures Ltd which was sold by the late Koinange’s granddaughter Barbara for Sh40.5 million.

The property will be deducted from her inheritance. The Appellate Judges directed that the long-drawn battle will revert to the High Court to pave way for redistribution of the properties on priority basis. In the contested judgment delivered on September 25, 2015, Justice Musyoka had said evidence had proved that Margaret and Eddah were not the late Koinange’s widows and must cease to be administrators of the estate.

The late Koinange’s two sons—David Njuno and David Waiganjo—were directed by the court to take control of all the assets and make urgent steps to recover those that had changed hands under dubious circumstances. Most of the beneficiaries have cried foul that the legal battles have deprived them of income since the properties were being wasted.

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