17 betting firm bosses deported in licence row


Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The Interior ministry on Tuesday issued deportation orders against 17 foreign directors of betting firms, days after withdrawing the operating licences of a number of companies.

Last night the Immigration department began flying some of the foreign nationals to their home countries, with sources saying they were detained for hours awaiting the signing of their deportation orders by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi shortly after 2pm.

The deportation orders were issued after the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC), with the blessings of President Uhuru Kenyatta, decided there would be no backing down on the war against rogue betting companies.

The identities of the targeted directors or that of their firms were not diclosed, but sources named some of their nationalities as Bulgaria, Italy, Russia and Poland.

“This is still an ongoing operation so we won’t disclose their names for now because those being deported have to be arrested first,” Interior Spokesperson Wangui Muchiri said yesterday.

Betting licences of 27 firms, including top firms SportPesa and Betin Kenya, were not renewed from July 1, pending the outcome of an ongoing inquiry about their suitability to operate in the country.

And as the police hunted down the directors set for deportation, the Financial Reporting Centre (FRC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) opened investigations on the bank accounts of the 27 betting companies.

This is after the Betting Control and Licencing Board (BCLB) wrote to the FRC asking them to probe the bank accounts.

Banks yesterday morning started to freeze the accounts which are thought to hold billions of shillings. The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) on Monday night issued an alert to banks that the betting firms have no licences.

Online sports betting has grown rapidly in recent years, riding increased enthusiasm for sports to achieve a combined revenue of Sh204 billion.

The growth has sparked government concerns about the social impact of betting. In May, the country introduced new gambling regulations, including banning advertising outdoors and on social media.

SportPesa, Betin and Betpawa moved to court seeking to reverse an earlier decision by the BCLB to block their pay bill numbers and short codes.