Kiarie used trickery to acquire most of his wealth and years after his death, his family is dealing with his mess
Few people are familiar with the late Joseph Kiarie Mbugua, the Kiambu billionaire whose fortunes seem to have started to nosedive- if they haven't already. The Jubilee Party building is owned by Mbugua's family.
The Mbugua of the 1970s to the 1990s was a man nobody wanted to cross his path, according to Justice Msagha Mbogoli. He had coffee. He was wealthy. And he was walked around with a gun.
He was armed when I first met him as a young reporter.
"Let's go," he said with an intimidating tone. We travelled to his coffee factory in Kiambu on his Pajero.
According to the story he told me, he had hoarded many tonnes of coffee worth millions of shillings in the hope that the market would improve.
He also made up a story about it being a demonstration against the Coffee Board of Kenya, the epicenter of coffee problems.
I later discovered, through records, that Mbugua had taken Sh75 million from a Kenya Planters Coffee Union (KPCU) miller and was one of the tycoons who refused to refund the bill.
With such coffee, demands for payments and incessant land scandals, the gun came in handy. Some peers nicknamed him Kiarie “Muici” which literary meant – Kiarie the thief.
Kiarie spoke like a bully. He also ran a successful transport business, Karura Quick Transport and had a tea estate in Kiambu. To his admirers, even in his Ndumberi backyard, he was simply Kiarie wa Njoki.
At one point, he took out a loan under the identity Kiarie Kamwana. It refers to Kiarie, the young man. The test of his honesty and character was tremendous.
For example, when he purchased the 172 acres from Mrs Beatrice Holyoak in 1977, the two agreed that the Sh1.4 million transaction price would exclude 10 acres and the farm home.
Mbugua may have dubbed the new coffee farm Mawara Coffee Estate for a purpose. Mawara translates as trickery, mischief, or dishonesty. Mawara Coffee Estate Limited addressed a letter to Mrs Holyoak shortly after the sale was completed.
"Your magnificent house with 10 acres surrounding it will be registered separately in your name with new title papers, which I will arrange, ensuring that should you ever decide to sell the property out of your family in the future, I will be granted first refusal to acquire," it said.
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Both had the same lawyer, Lilian Mwaura, who prepared the sale agreement and the conveyance dated July 17, 1977.
"The right of the vendor to occupy and enjoy the use of the dwelling house and premises thereon" was one of the conditions agreed upon. Six months after the sale agreement, Mrs Holyoak wrote to remind Mr Mbugua about the subdivision as agreed.
“Macwatt Estates would like the above piece of property surveyed so that it can have its 10 acres as agreed before,” said the letter.
“With your permission Macwatt Estates is willing to bring its surveyor. We hope you will co-operate in this matter in order to finish quickly.” That never happened.
Mbugua, interestingly, never included the 10 acres in the transaction. Furthermore, because Mr Mbugua now owned title to the entire site, transferring the 10 acres would have required the Kiambu Land Board's approval.
Mr Mbugua looks to have performed a prank on Mrs Holyaok. After six years of playing hide-and-seek, there was no way to enforce the contract.
"The plaintiff should have known that the defendant was out to breach the same when Mbugua did not respond to the lawyer's letter in January 1978," ruled Justice Mbogoli.
The judge questioned why Mrs. Holyoak's firm, Macwatt Estate Limited, waited until 1992 to launch the action, calling it "far out of time."
What was perhaps not said was that Mrs Holyoak died in 1986, and Mrs Allison Mathilde Janss took over the company. Mrs Janns, a director, chose to pursue the property and the judge determined that she was truthful.
"I have watched Mrs. Jauss's evidence. I have no doubt that she was truthful and honest. Mr Mbugua, on the other hand, was sly and devious. Whatever the evaluation, this is a case in which the plaintiff is a victim of the lawyers who managed the transaction and the law on the other side," stated Justice Mbogoli.
There wasn't much he could do. Mr Mbugua, on the other hand, had the law on his side, and he walked away with 10 acres and a farm house without paying a dollar.