Ugandan business tycoon James Mugoya and a member of the UAE royal family have laid claim to prime plots on which the Hilton Upper Hill tower is being built, in a suit that could stall the Sh20 billion project.
The two have obtained court orders stopping the ongoing construction on claims that the developers of the skyscraper have encroached on their land.
The Pinnacle Tower, which is set to host the 45-floor Hilton Upper Hill hotel and a separate 70-storey apartments and office block, is tipped to be the tallest building in Africa on completion.
The project was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year, but is now beset by a web of intricate land fraud claims.
The suit filed in two separate court claims reveals alleged fraudulent transactions dating back two decades.
Kingorani Investments Limited, owned by Mugoya Isabirye and the Trustees of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, are listed as the parties behind the suit.
Court papers list White Lotus Projects, Chief Land Registrar James Gichuku Wambugu and Samuel Mwangi as among the parties to the case.
The claimants want the developers to be held in contempt of a court order issued in January 2017 and July 2015 that restrained any activity on the properties.
“The respondents have forcibly and in breach of the said orders of preservation moved into the suit property, cut all the grass and trees thereof in readiness for commencement of excavation on the suit property such that if this court does not intervene, there is a real risk and likelihood that the suit property shall be wasted and irreparably damaged and the dignity, honour and authority of this honourable court brought into disrepute,” says Mr Mugoya in his affidavit.
Both the 255-key Hilton Nairobi Upper Hill hotel and serviced apartments will be managed by the New York bourse-listed hotel chain.
The $200 million (about Sh20 billion) project is a joint venture between Jabavu Village, the real estate investment arm of the Hass Petroleum Group, and Dubai-based investment firm White Lotus Group.
The Pinnacle Tower will reach a height of 300 metres upon completion, dwarfing the upcoming 200-metre tall Britam Towers, AVIC International Tower (175 metres), UAP Tower (163 metres), Times Tower (140 metres), and the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (105 metres).
It sits on a two-acre plot and consists of two towers: the 45-storey Hilton Hotel, and the 70-storey mixed-use wing, which will also include 20 floors of high-end office space, a five-storey shopping mall, and three floors of underground parking.
Mr Mugoya and Sheikh Zayed claim that the developer who owns the parcel of land LR 31/219 where the tower is being built has allegedly encroached on and taken over at least two other adjacent plots.
According to the documents filed in court, excavation on the three plots is ongoing and the tower will cover the three plots.
Mr Mugoya claims that he purchased the land, LR NO 209/11142, in September 1995 at Sh25 million and says he has been paying rates on it since then.
He claims that he even applied and got approval from Nairobi City County and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) in 2016 to develop a boundary wall around the parcel.
However, in the August 2016 he says he learnt someone had started building a perimeter wall on his land, prompting him to carry out a search at the Lands Registry to no avail since the file was reportedly missing.
Upon further investigations he found that the plot had been transferred to Sigma Limited through a transfer dated November 1998, he says.
He claims that this transfer is a forgery since he has never sold or given any consent for any transfer and claims that he suspects the transfer was backdated.
He further alleges that the land has since been transferred from Sigma Limited to Garanco Five Limited, who has in turn granted White Lotus, developer of the Pinnacle tower, use of the land.
The Trustees of Sheikh Zayed on their part claim that the land parcel number 209/11552 was a gift to them by retired President Daniel Moi to the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1990 and registered in 1992.
The trustees claim that they have been paying land rates and complied with all other laws.
Correspondence between the Sheikh Zayed trustees and the National Land Commission shows that the dispute started sometime in 2015 when Trustees of Kenya Railways Staff Retirement and Benefits Scheme demolished the wall on the land.
The gulf-linked trustees say the Railway Staff Scheme’s claim related only to the parcel of land LR 209/6525 but not 209/11552, and that the latter’s claim is therefore baseless.
The Railways Staff Scheme in its response says it owns LR 209/11552 contrary to the Sheikh Zayed trustees’ claim.
It cites a separate suit it filed against Trustees of Sheikh Zayed over the same piece of land, which is still pending in court.
It says it has since leased the property to Jabavu Village Limited, which was granted in March 2017, and already the land changed possession.
The court document shows the initial dispute involved the Trustees of Sheikh Zayed, Kenya Railways and a firm identified as Pelican over the same piece of the land. The suit was filed in 2015.
The Trustees of Sheikh Zayed obtained a court order restraining Pelican from interfering with the property, but the two firms have now joined hands to fight the developer, changing the direction of the dispute.
They want the developers to be held in contempt of court for disobeying the orders.
However, the developers have distanced themselves from the accusation, arguing they have never been informed of the court order or an ongoing suit.
They claim they are not aware of any orders and therefore cannot be held in contempt of court.