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Red alert as land grabbers target elderly foreigners

A 76-year-old British citizen residing in Nakuru lives in mortal fear for her life over a piece of land she inherited. Elizabeth (not her real name) says she has been harassed, arrested and her British passport confiscated by the police since February last year. Her crime?

Occupying a six-acre land which shadowy and vicious grabbers going by the more positive tag “private developers” have their eyes on. Elizabeth was named sole beneficiary of the land in Nakuru in 2009 by the late Richard Ingram Crawford, who died in February 2014.

In November 2005, she was issued with the grant of probate by the High Court in Nakuru. And all was well until last year (2017), three years after the owners death, when an individual emerged from no where to stake claim to the land.

The new claimant (name withheld) avers he bought the land from Crawford and has now turned Elizabeth’s life into a nightmare, resorting to all manner of crude tactics with suspected collusion by a local politician and police to drive her from the land.

She narrates for example that in February 2017, the police on the pretext of investigating alleged forgery of Crawford will, confiscated her British passport which is yet to be returned a month after she was arrested and charged in court with forgery of Crawford’s will in January this year.

The case (Charge sheet OB: 23/16/1/2018). But such tactics are not unique. We have established that in recent years, rapacious land grabbers have been targeting land, more so those belonging to aging land owners, especially of British descent— second and third generation citizens ­— who still own land in the country. The narrative often follows a similar path.

Fraudsters identify an old mzungu, without known close family members. Once they pass on, or sometimes while still alive, they emerge, staking claim to the land pretending they had bought the same. and try to take it from the rightful owners or the intended beneficiaries.

This is done with the help of authorities and highly placed people. There is also the case of the late Roger Bryan Robson, who died on August 8, 2012 and whose case has been in the news for some time. Robson had two pieces of property located in Karen and Upper Hill both in Nairobi inherited from his parents. The estate is estimated to be worth more than Sh500million.

He had in his last will instructed that his estates be sold and proceeds shared between his nephew and charitable institutions in Kenya, whose focus is on environment conservation. He had appointed Guy Spencer Elms, as the executor. Prior to his death, Roger had repeatedly complained to his brother Michael Robson about people attempting to steal his residence.

“Roger had informed me on several occasions, a number of years prior to his death, both in writing and by telephone, that fraudsters were attempting to steal his residence by making false claims of ownership thereto but that he was being assisted to strenuously resist these fraudulent claims,” an affidavit by Michael Fairfax Robson signed in April 15, 2017 taken by a Notary Public in the UK notes.

Since his (Roger’s) death, Elms has faced numerous challenges in executing his wishes, including that proceeds from the property be distributed to charitable organisations and his nephew in England.

Those making claims have even filed several court cases accusing Elms of trying to fraudulently acquire the land despite the fact that Elms is neither listed anywhere as a beneficiary nor produced any land documents with his name.

It has emerged that some fraudsters are highly placed people with access to key offices and officials willing to stop at nothing until they finalise acquisition of the deceased estate.

A common tactic is to continually harass owners or legal beneficiaries with the hope that the executor would give up the fight for the land or pack and leave the country. One claimant (name withheld) claims the deceased sold the Karen land to her before he died, for Sh100 million.

She even produced a conveyance document, despite the fact that the land has been mortgaged to Habib Bank since 1991 and has not been discharged to date. A brother who lives in England signed an affidavit confirming that Roger had never sold the land to anyone and confirmed that the deceased had mentioned to him that some people had been trying to grab the land when he (Roger) was still alive.

The property has since been fenced off, ensuring there is no access to it. Yet another claimant (whose name we withhold) claims Roger had given him the Upper Hill property for free having been good friends with Roger. He only made the claim three years after Roger’s death and did not know even basic facts about the deceased or the company under which the property is registered.

A forensic report by National Land Commission (NLC) released in June last year validated Robson’s will and noted consistency in the executors actions as one trying to do right by his client. NLC report also confirmed the conveyance documents and signatures produced by the fraudsters were forgeries.

But earlier this month, two officials from the office of the registrar of companies, who were expected in court to validate the documents alleged to have been forged by Elms failed to turn up. Despite the summons by Justice John Onyiego, the witnesses failed to appear in court prompting adjournment to May 21, 2018.

“The officials should appear in court and verify the alleged forged documents because the forensic examiner, who has testified did not use the original copies,” Judge Onyiego said on April 11.

In February this year, another white man was brutally murdered in what police later linked to his 20-acre piece of land in Karen. Esmond Bradley Martin, illegal ivory trade expert was found dead at his residence in Lang’ata with a stab wound on his neck.

Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti said the case was pure land grab but maintains investigations are still ongoing. Martin who was 75 at the time of his death, was the third owner of the land that originally belonged to founder of scouts movement Lord Baden Powell.

While police initially thought Martin had been killed because of his investigative work on illegal ivory trade, they later established the killing was because of an attempted land grab after they came across documents showing fraudsters had tried to change ownership of the 20-acre piece land.

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