Economy

Trader loses bid to access frozen Sh53m in crime case

gavel-money

An embattled finance executive has scored a double victory, winning back his job and a Sh36 million compensation for unfair dismissal for rejecting illegal orders by a chief executive. PHOTO | POOL

The High Court has declined to allow a businessman access to about Sh9.1 million of the more than Sh53 million that were frozen in August over suspicion that are proceeds of crime.

Justice Esther Maina dismissed the application by Antony Kepha Odiero seeking to allow him access to part of the frozen cash so that he could pay his workers’ salaries and office rent.

The judge also dismissed his application to lift an order freezing the two high-end motor vehicles that he submitted had made him immobile, as they are tools of the trade and had interfered with his businesses.

Justice Maina said Mr Odiero had failed to demonstrate that he had suffered hardship as a result of the freeze order issued in August after an application by the Assets Recovery Agency.

According to the judge, whatever hardship is likely to flow from the failure to pay the staff’s salaries and rent for business premises did not outweigh the risk that the funds and assets may be lost, concealed, or transferred if the order is lifted.

“I have carefully perused the evidence placed before me by the respondent/applicant, and come to the conclusion that he does not meet the threshold for discharge of the order,” said the judge.

The court blocked the businessman from withdrawing more than Sh53 million in US dollars deposited in his bank accounts and from selling the two vehicles, a Range Rover and Mercedes Benz, which are suspected to be proceeds of crime.

Mr Odiero submitted that it is more than 100 days later and the agency has not shown or tabled evidence to show that he was involved in criminal activities or was a beneficiary of criminal conduct.

He told the court that he had been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and labelled as a drug trafficker, a ‘wash wash’ guy, and a money launderer when there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations.

He said the move had affected his business and reputation yet the freeze was a pure witch-hunt without any factual or evidentiary basis but to criminalise his job for having money in bank accounts.

The businessman further said he should be allowed to take the vehicles after the National Transport and Safety Authority registered caveats on them as they are susceptible to damage under the Agency’s custody as they will be parked in a basement.

Mr Odiero also submitted that he has not paid his staff salaries since August yet he explained himself after he was summoned yet the investigators allegedly declined to look at his business invoices, which explained the deposits.

ARA opposed the application and stated that the agency only needed to show the court the likelihood of the possibility of the money and vehicles being proceeds of crime by establishing reasonable grounds.

The agency said it is suspected that the businessman acquired the funds under preservation through money laundering and his bank accounts are suspected to have been used as instrumentality of money laundering.

“That preliminary investigation has established that the respondent conducted suspicious transactions which were mainly cash deposits and withdrawals,” the agency said in submissions filed in court.

The court was informed that the businessman made clustered deposits ranging from $3,000 to $100,000. Part of the funds were used for the purchase of the motor vehicles.

The ARA said between 2020 and 2023, Mr Odiero had deposited $596,500 in the bank account, mostly from a company identified as Straight Business Agency.

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