Simon Gicharu’s Mount Kenya University, businessman Vallabh Haribhai Bakrania embroiled in Multi-million land fraud suit

Mount Kenya University has found itself once again on the receiving end after entering into a scandalous land deal with an alleged fraudulent businessman leading up to a court battle.

In what was thought to be a smooth deal to acquire a piece of land in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, the institution’s owner Simon Gicharu has once again fallen prey.

The institution has dragged a controversial British national Vallabh Haribhai Bakrania to court for allegedly defrauding them of Sh20 million.

Bakrania is accused of obtaining the money by pretending he was in a position to sell to the university a piece of land located in Industrial Area, Nairobi.

Bakrania allegedly committed the offence on 27th November 2020 in Nairobi, with intent to defraud the Mount Kenya University.

He is accused of pretending to be in a position to sell and transfer to the institution part of land LR No. 209/3501 IR No. 33709 measuring approximately 0.0602ha, a fact he knew was false.

He denied the charges before Chief Magistrate Wendy Kagendo and was granted a bond of Sh 1 million. He was given an alternative of a Sh 1 million.

Bukrania is not new to controversies, in 2019, he became a center of Kenya’s national security following a highly publicized scandal where a renowned private investigator claimed that her life was endangered for handling his case in which his travel documents and properties were confiscated by the state for allegedly getting involved in unnamed fraud schemes.

Bukrania had engaged the private investigator to help recover his documents and properties.

According to the private investigator (PI), immigration officers had raided Bakrania’s New Muthaiga home and confiscated his passports, gun and Bentley.

She asked to see the Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai who instead directed her to his chief of staff Munga Nyale.

Mr Nyale met with the British billionaire and again pointed him in the direction of the director internal complaints Charlton Muriithi.

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The latter recorded Bakrania’s complaint and addressed it to regional commander Ndolo at Nairobi Area.

The next day, she narrated, she made her way to Nairobi Area where she was introduced to Four DCI officers who would be handling the case.

On August 15, she met the detectives at Gigiri police station before heading to the client’s home to record his sister’s statement.

Upon reaching the home, she said, she met a cook who asked her to help them find alternative employment because they were allegedly being asked to give false witness accounts.

The cook said they had been approached by a Sanjey Metta and Kevin Oduor.

She would later find out that there were individuals trying to “fix” her and have her kicked out of the case.

In a past interview with Citizen TV, the PI said she was being targeted because she was working on a “sensitive matter, and the matter is touching on some senior government officials..”

It has never become apparent the nature of the sensitive matter that Bakrania was engaged in that irked the state.

Step Up Holdings

In its expansion strategy, MKU in a deal sewed up by Simon Gicharu has been embroiled in a land tussle with a firm Step Up Holdings that according to court documents, claim they were shortchanged.

Apparently, MKU through Gicharu, allegedly entered into an agreement with Step Up in 2011 to set up a Nakuru campus mini wing in Kericho town but the owner didn’t measure up leading to a court battle in a supposed Sh511M botched deal between the two entities. Step Up ran the operations of the Nakuru Campus before the clash. This was a gentleman’s deal between the two entrepreneurs meaning it was all verbal.

Step Up Holdings avers that a month after their verbal agreement, the university forced the firm to close the Kericho Campus leading to a loss of Sh953,881.

The firm claims the university then “illegally took over” the campus by relocating 3,807 students and 295 staff to other premises. The court sided with Step Up Holdings and found the university liable for Sh511 million.

MKU did not place a legal defence arguing the matter was for arbitration.

In 2012, the Court of Appeal in Nakuru dismissed appeal attempt by MKU dismissing the appellants’ application for stay of proceedings pending Arbitration.

“The background to the appeal is that, both the appellant and the respondent entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) containing an arbitration clause.” Court records show.

However, Nakuru High Court judge Justice Hillary Chemitei allowed the university to file defence Sh511million dispute.

“The interlocutory judgement entered against the applicant or defendant on November 17, 2011, is hereby set aside,” ruled Justice Hilary Chemitei.

“The applicant shall within 30 days from the date herein deposit Sh511million in a joint interest-earning account in the names of both counsel for the applicant and the defendant pending the hearing and determination of the suit,” stated Justice Chetimei.

The court also ordered Step Up Holdings to provide a Sh511million bank guarantee from a reputable within 30 days pending the hearing of the case.

Provisions of the MoU cited by the university in its flopped attempt to push for arbitration that was dismissed by the Court of Appeal provided as follows:

Settlement of Disputes

The Chairman of Mt. Kenya University(Simon Gicharu) and the Chairman of Step up Holdings retain the final say on any matter which calls for interpretation of this MOU and any other agreements related to or incidental to this MOU.
The parties shall use their efforts to settle amicable (sic?) all the disputes arising out of or in connection with this agreement or interpretations hereof.
Any dispute, difference or question which may arise at any one time between the parties which cannot be settled amicably within thirty (30) days after receipt by one party of the other party’s request for such amicable settlement shall be referred to the decision of a single arbitrator to be agreed upon by the two parties or in default of agreement within fourteen (14) days of each party raising such disputes shall write to the Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Kenya Branch in accordance with and subject to the provisions of the Arbitration Act, Cap 49 Laws of Kenya or any statutory Modification or re-enactment thereof for the time being in force.
Any party not satisfied with the Arbitration shall have the right to seek redress in a court of law.” The records show.

Step Up Holdings is owned by Bernard Gikunda Mwarania.

Due Diligence

Question arising is how the legal department of MKU failed to do a background checkup to a certain whether Mr. Bakrania would deliver and had the integrity to do deliver the Industrial area Land for expansion or was this a case of insatiable appetite for a better deal regardless of the risks and routes?

Isn’t it a case of curiosity that the institution has way more than a single case of land scandal in court?

MKU is one of the fastest growing higher learning institutions in the country with branches spanning from Kenya to Rwanda.