A Nairobi High Court judge has frozen Sh252 million part compensation due to the family of multiparty hero Kenneth Matiba in the wake of a dispute between relatives of the late Cabinet minister and a lawyer over the sharing of the benefits.
Justice Weldon Korir directed Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki to deposit Sh252 million from the Sh1.5 billion compensation in a court bank account ahead of the State Law Office making further payment to the Matiba family.
Lawyer John Mburu, who represented Matiba in the compensation suit, says the Treasury had secretly released hundreds of millions of shillings to the family of the late politician, and that the secret payments were part a scheme to avoid paying him his rightful legal fees.
Matiba was awarded Sh978 million by the High Court as compensation for torture during the Moi era and the amount at the moment exceeds Sh1.5 billion, including interest.
Justice Korir ruled that the court had the duty to protect Mr Mburu, arguing that a client cannot evade the responsibility of settling an advocate’s fees.
He said the court had a responsibility to assist a lawyer in recovering his fees in the event of an agreement to pay charges upon the success of a claim.
“Depositing the money in court will ensure that the same will be available for disbursement once the issue of the amount owing to Mr (John) Mburu is finally settled,” the judge said. “An order is also issued directing the respondent to deposit in court on priority to any other payment, the sum of Sh252,392,618.48.”
Mr Mburu had told the court that the administrators of the late politician’s estate, including Matiba’s widow Edith, daughter Susan and son Raymond, were paid Sh200 million in February last year without involving him.Justice Korir said the decision by the AG to pay the family directly was ill-advised.
He, however, told Mr Kihara that the State Law Office would be free to disburse the remaining millions to the Matiba estate after depositing the Sh252 million in the court bank account.
“The moment he had notice from Mr Mburu that the estate owed him money, he was under a duty to preserve the advocate’s fees,” the judge said.
Mr Mburu argued that the family had purported to assume ownership of the entire amount to his exclusion and treated the compensation as their sole property to which he has no claim despite having been the “sole architect of the judgment through very hard work on his part”.
He said the Matiba family intended to use the power of attorney to disburse the money to themselves once it was released by the government and avoid paying him his fees.
“In colluding with the deceased’s family to pay them behind the applicant’s back, entering into the said secret agreement with them and paying the said sum to them directly behind the applicant’s back pursuant thereto, in violation of his lien on the decree for his fees and as the advocate on record for the deceased, the respondent was actuated by malice, nepotism and clear corruption,” reads part of the suit.
Mr Mburu told the court of plans to disburse a further Sh500 million to the family pursuant to a secret agreement between the Matiba family and the Attorney-General.
Matiba, a former Kiharu MP, died last year aged 85 after battling long illness. He suffered a stroke while in detention on May 26, 1991, during the administration of the then President Daniel arap Moi, and State officials at the time did not bother to get him medical attention and he remained in that state for a week while in incarceration. Documents filed in court by the administrators showed Mr Matiba left property valued at Sh732 million, although the amount is set to rise following the High Court award.
In seeking compensation when he first filed the case, Matiba had argued that he lost investments worth Sh5 billion following his detention.
Lawrence Riungu, a financial and investment analyst called by Mr Mburu, testified that Mr Matiba’s businesses started collapsing soon after his detention after an illustrious career in politics - including vying for the presidency - and a flourishing business empire.
An audit of the estate had revealed that the politician lost more than Sh2 billion in commercial real estate and a further Sh2 billion in privately held shares.
Matiba, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat the then President Moi in the 1992 election, also lost public trading shares worth Sh329 million and dividends amounting to Sh210 million.
Moi, who ruled Kenya for 24 years, died last week and will be buried today at his Kabarak farm in Nakuru County.
Some of Matiba’s companies were sold to offset loans, among them the prestigious Hillcrest International Schools.