When the powerful former Cabinet minister Nicholas Biwott died on July 2017, some of the mystery surrounding him cleared. Many felt his net worth was more than the Sh1.4 billion that was revealed – a figure that could be much smaller, depending on the outcome of several debt claims now in court.
It is believed he had a stake in over 40 companies, among them Kenol Kobil, Sisibo Tea Factory, HZ Construction and Air Kenya.
But his succession has revealed that Mr Biwott was either not as wealthy as perceived, or perhaps shared out a majority of his assets before death.
Nearly three years after his demise, even the Sh1.4 billion risks being depleted owing to debt claims that are now at the centre of court battles in Nairobi and Eldoret.
The claims indicate that Biwott may have suffered a cash crunch in his final years as the former minister allegedly died before paying debts worth millions of shillings.
The latest claim has been made by lawyer Ahmed Adan, who alleges he lent Biwott Sh71 million between October, 2014 and May, 2015.
The claims could leave Biwott’s net worth at Sh500 million, or less.
On December 20, 2017, the executors of his will — lawyers Desterio Oyatsi, Hamish Keith, and Yaya Towers managing director Elisabeth Klem — asked anyone claiming money from the deceased to come forward with evidence.
The executors rejected three claims that have now become the subject of court proceedings.
Eldoret-based real estate baron Barnabas arap Kiprono, Biwott’s banker Rosemary Kamene Nzeki and Mr Adan all had their claims rejected. They now want the court to intervene.
Mr Kiprono’s claim for nearly Sh1 billion is pending determination at the Eldoret High Court.
He claims to have lent Biwott Sh382 million in cash and bank transfers to enable him to settle some debts and boost some of his businesses.
The businessman claims that interest on his loans to Biwott have pushed the total debt to nearly Sh1 billion.
Ms Nzeki says she handled Biwott’s Barclays Bank account for years and the same had pending salaries of Sh1.6 million for the period covering January-June, 2017.
The banker also loaned Biwott Sh762,600 and furnished the court with two undated cheques to prove her claim.
On March 16, 2018, Mr Adan lodged his claim with the three executors but was denied any payment. He now wants the Sh71 million with interest paid.
Mr Adan’s claim has sparked off a fight that could get dirty, as the executors now accuse the lawyer of trying to alter sales proceeds paid to Biwott into a loan.
The lawyer says he loaned Biwott the funds via bank transfers from Barclays through Wetangula, Adan & Company Advocates.
But the executors argue that the banking slips Mr Adan produced as evidence of the loans only indicate that the law firm remitted the money to Biwott as “sale proceeds and purchase price deposits”.
“It is an abuse of the court process for Mr Adan to bring this action, alleging that he paid the said sums of money as a loan to Biwott. Mr Adan’s claim is false and an abuse of the court process,” the executors stated.
Mr Adan argues that the executors have not given any evidence that the monies paid to Biwott were either sale proceeds or deposits for purchases.
High Court Judge Margaret Muigai has refused to strike out the executors’ defence as requested by Mr Adan.
Judge Muigai ruled that it is urgent to confirm, through a trial, whether the claims are valid.
“The defence raises real issues for trial and cannot be struck off at this stage … There could be other plausible and legitimate explanations of these funds transfer,” the judge ruled.