Rich firm officials and shareholders battle for billions

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Nairobi Cinema. Gatatha Farmers Company Limited members have written to President Ruto to intervene in the saga. [File, Standard]

A multi-billion shilling company started by coffee pickers 51 year ago is grappling with a major controversy following claims that some of its assets have been sold without the consent of members.

Consequently, some of the 1,400 members of Gatatha Farmers Company Limited based in Kiambu, now want President Ruto to intervene and save their property worth billions of shillings from being disposed off secretly.

In a letter to the President dated September 12, three shareholders, Fredrick Muiruri, Lilian Mwaura and Bernard Karoba complain of plans to sell 926 acres of land in Kiambu, without the consent of shareholders.

The shareholders say already 4,606 acres of prime in Kitale, Endebes and Kilimambogo, some of which had been planted with coffee, had been disposed of and now there were plans to sell the kiambu land.

“When founding chairman Peter Njuhigu retired in 2002, we had coffee and maize farms in Kitale including livestock, which have been sold. Suam farm comprising 1,470 acres and Endebes’ 1,873 acres with coffee and 1,263 acres of land in Kilimambogo have also been sold at a throw away price without tendering,” reads the letter.

The land in Kilimambogo was sold for Sh400 million by a real estate developer who subdivided and resold it for about Sh2 billion.

They further alleged that after the shareholders rejected a bid to sell 600 acres of the coffee estate in Kiambu, the company started borrowing from banks and had accumulated loans of Sh472 million from 2017 to 2022.

However, the chairman of the board of directors, Mburu Gakwa, dismissed the allegations explaining that Gatatha was one of the best run companies.

He added that for the last 15 years he has been a director, the over 1,300 shareholders have been receiving their dividends which he described as one of the highest in Kenya.

On complains that his board had secretly sold some company assets, Gakwa retorted: “This is not new. They have written many letters for the last ten years. If you need details, go to the DCI headquarters along Kiambu Road.

He invited The Sunday Standard to his offices at Cianda, in Kiambu where he said he would offer more answers. He ruled out responding to further questions via phone.

Another director,  Bernard Njau explained that Gatatha has been paying its shareholders 50 per cent of their shares, adding that a member whose stake was worth Sh100,000 received about Sh50,000 annually.

He explained that the sale of Gatatha’s assets  its assets in Kitale and Endembes, took place after the 2007 post election violence to minimise risks and exposure.

He added that recently, Gatatha had sold its 1,263 acres of land in Kilimambogo for about Sh400 million after the shareholders gave their  consent during an  annual General meeting. “We hold our AGM every year. There is nothing like selling some land secretly. It is also untrue that there are plans to sell the Yala land in Kiambu,” he said.

In one of their letters, the disgruntled shareholders had complained to the Central Bank of Kenya and the DCI about what they termed unauthorised borrowing by some directors and requested that a bank be sanctioned for offering the loans.

On October 25, 2021, the Central Bank responded to complaints by Muiruri, Mwaura and Karoba, acknowledging the petition about the bank and responded thus. “The Central Bank of Kenya engaged the bank (name withheld for legal reasons) on the matter. In response, the bank confirmed having written to Gatatha to address the issues you raised.”

CBK’s Director of Supervision, Reuben Cheres, however, referred the complaints back to Gatatha thus,” Please contact the directors of Gatatha Company Limited for more information on this matter.

Muiruri’s letter to EACC was equally unsuccessful for he was informed that his complaints were touching on fraudulent allegations which fell within the mandate of DCI.

EACC’s deputy director, reports and data management, Susan Kinyeki advised the Muiruri’s group to channel their  concerns to CBK, which in turn referred the matter to Gatatha farmers. The office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions had on October 28 2021 had directed the complains to DCI with a comment,” Kindly note that the ODPP does not conduct investigations. You are advised to report the matter with the Banking Fraud Investigations Unit and the Office of the DCI.

The three shareholders complained to the President that despite writing a string of letters and reminders to the DCI, there has been no progress for the last three years.

The farmers now want Ruto to help them safeguard their assets and direct Asset and Recovery Authority to recover all immovable assets and monies acquired y the directors.

They also want action taken against some officers from the DCI, CBK and other government bodies who have frustrated their quest for justice.

“We are appealing that the board of directors be dissolved and a caretaker board named for three months during investigations. Forensic audit be urgently undertaken on the company and especially on the highlighted areas by an external auditor,” they added.

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