The Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority has taken control of 1,013 bank repositories of jewellery, title deeds, share certificates and Treasury bills whose value could be revealed later.
Local banks declared and surrendered inactive safe boxes whose owners could not be traced, perhaps due to death or migration abroad. The boxes were active in the 1970s and 80s.
“We have since publicised the safe box owners’ information on our website (ufaa.go.ke) without giving details of the nature of the assets as such information is only accessible to genuine claimants, either in person or via relatives. No one has ever lodged a claim for any of the safe boxes in our custody,” said Ufaa Chief Executive Kellen Kariuki.
Ms Kariuki said that individual banks were holding the safe boxes pending a decision on the next course of action.
Ufaa can on its volition, in the presence of bank staff and an independent witness, force open a safe box to reveal its contents.
The cost of breaking into the boxes and repairing them will be borne by Ufaa, but claimants can still repossess the property after due charges are paid to the holding banks.
Neither Ufaa nor the banks know the contents of the safe boxes but it is public knowledge that wealthy families store precious jewellery, share certificates, Treasury bills, company certificates and personal documents such as land title deeds, security certificates, and share certificates in banks.
Wealthy individuals also keep their wills in safe boxes with strict instructions that they be opened upon their death.
A glimpse of the content of some of the boxes emerged after several burglary incidents in Nairobi and Mombasa where repositories were broken into and jewellery worth millions of shillings stolen.
Two sisters, Helen and Alexandra Veevers, testified in an inquest looking into millionaire property developer Harry Veevers’ death where they claimed impropriety over the handling of their father’s safe box at a local bank — which saw their two half-brothers disinherit them.
Operating a safe box costs between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000 annually. The business has of late attracted saccos and insurance companies.