Mucheru finally sells stake in Bitcoin dealing firm Bitpesa


ICT secretary Joe Mucheru. FILE PHOTO | NMG

ICT secretary Joe Mucheru has offloaded his stake in the Bitcoin remittance firm Bitpesa, delivering on a promise he first made in 2016 to address conflict of interest following his Cabinet appointment.

Mr Mucheru was until December last year a minority shareholder in BitPesa, a three-year old startup that provides cash-transfer services using the virtual currency.

On Wednesday Mr Mucheru declined to reveal the value of the sale, only saying that he had made “ten times” the amount he had initially invested.

“I divested in BitPesa fully, so I am not conflicted. I am able to talk here without having any conflict,” said Mr Mucheru on Wednesday.

Mr Mucheru stepped down from the board of BitPesa when he was appointed to the Cabinet, and put his stake in the company up for sale, saying he wanted to avoid the conflict of interest that would arise if he were to develop policy for a sector where he had business interests.

He put on hold the divestiture plans in 2016 as potential buyers shied away following a Central Bank of Kenya advisory cautioning Kenyans against investing in or using cryptocurrencies.

The 2016 Central Bank advisory sent a chill through the market, warding off any banks that may have facilitated BitPesa transactions as Safaricom also blocked BitPesa from using M-Pesa.

READ: Bitcoin firms investors stuck with shares after CBK warning

BitPesa in September 2017 warned customers transacting in Kenya that it was halting the verification of new users and that it was imposing a minimum limit of Sh2.5 million ($25,000) on transactions.

These new rules, it said, were occasioned by the difficulties of operating in Kenya.

“We are saddened not to be able to operate at full steam in what we consider our home country, given our success globally— especially with regulators. We look forward to the day when the Kenyan government allows us to open bank accounts and serve our customers,” the company said at the time.

Despite the problems, BitPesa now also operates in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.