EABL bosses fight contempt charges over beer distribution


EABL chief executive Jane Karuku. FILE PHOTO | NMG

East African Breweries Limited (EABL) executives including CEO Jane Karuku have moved to the Supreme Court for a review of a decision that found them in contempt of court in a long-running battle with its former distributor, Bia Tosha.

Ms Karuku together with Mr Andrew Kilonzo, the managing director of Uganda Breweries Ltd wants the apex court to review the decision issued last month, saying the court condemned them unheard. Also named in the case of former director Andrew Cowan.

The senior officials said the punishment of jailing them for six months, as sought by Bia Tosha, is radical and gross that should never be issued without hearing them.

“In view of the foregoing, the applicants hold the considered view that it is only fair that the Supreme Court judgment, in so far as the same affects the applicants, be reviewed, set aside of varied so that the High Court deals with contempt application pending before it on merits as directed,” the application reads.

Deputy registrar of the Supreme Court Bernard Kasavuli on Monday referred the matter to Chief Justice Martha Koome, for the appointment of a bench to determine the case.

The officials of the beer maker want the court to suspend the execution of the judgment delivered on February 17. 

In the decision, the top court found the officials in contempt over the termination of the contract with Bia Tosha and reverted the matter back to the High Court for punishment.

The long-running court battle started in 2016 after Bia Tosha accused Kenya Breweries Ltd (KBL) of terminating the distributorship contract entered between them in 2006.

The distributor moved to court and sought among others, an injunction stopping KBL and UDV (Kenya) Ltd from interfering with the distribution business.

KBL opposed the application and after hearing the case, the High Court dismissed the case and referred the matter to arbitration.

Bia Tosha then moved to the Court of Appeal and sought an order stopping KBL from interfering with the distributorship contracts, pending the determination of the case and the court directed the parties to maintain the status quo. 

The distributor then filed contempt proceedings against Mr Kilonzo, Ms Karuku and other key personnel, alleging disobedience of court order.

But Ms Karuku says the contempt applications were not served on them.

After hearing the case, the Court of Appeal delivered its decision in July 2020 and KBL says the High Court orders were discharged, triggering the appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Ms Karuku and Kilonzo say the Supreme Court decision has far-reaching ramifications against them, as the court said contempt of court had been proven. 

“The practical effect of this is that the High Court contempt application has effectively been determined by the Supreme Court and all that remains is the punishment of the applicants and 1st and 2nd interested parties,” the petition reads. 

They say there were misrepresentation and concealment of material facts. 

“The issue of contempt of court was considered for the very first time in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not have the full weight of facts partly due to the aforesaid concealment of material facts,” KBL says. 

Bia Tosha has opposed the case and wants the review should be struck out with costs 

“The High Court has not expressed itself on the merits of the contempt application before it. The applicant’s invitation to this court to as it were by way of backdoor express itself on that application,” Bia Tosha says in response.  

The distributor says by hearing KBL’s application, the Supreme Court will prejudice the just and fair resolution of the applications pending before the High Court. 

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