JM Kariukis Wives Battle for Billions Decades After His Murder

3 min


Forty four years after veteran politician Josiah Mwangi (JM) Kariuki was murdered and his body dumped at Lochubo Manyatta in Kajiado County, his widows are still engaged in a protracted court battle on who should control the vast estate left behind.

His three wives, Doris Nyambura, Esther Mwikali, and Terry Wanjiku escalated their dispute to the corridors of justice after they failed to arrive at a solution ten years after the death of their husband.

The Nyandarua North MP died a wealthy man; A billionaire who owned parcels of land in Nairobi, Ol Kalou, and Gilgil that total to a whopping Ksh4 billion at the current land rates.

The late JM Kariuki's children Rosemary Machua (left) and Tony Kariuki (right) appearing before the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission at NHIF building on March 05 2012.
The late JM Kariuki’s children Rosemary Machua (left) and Tony Kariuki (right) appearing before the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission at NHIF building in March 2012.

Before the family members went to court, they had agreed to sell 811 acres of its farm in Gilgil to Twendane Farmers Company Limited which already paid a Ksh 360,000 deposit for the property.  

The farmers were unable to pay the Ksh 640,000 balance after they had already taken ownership of the land.
In 1983, JM’s family sought a court order and stopped the Twendane farmer’s group from occupying the land.

The court case went cold till 2011, when the group went to court and claimed that they ought to be declared the rightful owners of the farm since they had occupied the land for 12 years.

The Kenyan law has a provision that can declare one a legal owner of a piece of land if the individual has occupied the parcel of land for 12 or more years without opposition or objection from anyone. 

Justice L.N. Waithaka ruled in favour of JM’s family because the initial court orders against the Twendane group had not been lifted.

In 2009, Justice Kalpana Rawal presided over the case and it appeared that the family had arrived at a formula on how to share the estate.

The eldest widow, Terry was to get the land that hosted Seoul Restaurant off Ngong road, 250 acres of the famous Riverside Farm in Ol Kalou and another 180.5 acres of land in their matrimonial home in Gilgil.

Terry and her co-wife, Esther, the second wife to JM, were to take up ownership and divide Castle Inn hotel located in Nairobi’s Garden Estate.

It was this decision that saw the third wife, Doris, move to court to seek an order challenging the agreement between the three households in its hands.

Esther also received 250 acres in Riverside Farm, while Doris got 118 acres. Terry and Esther also got 35 per cent each of the 811-acre farm in Gilgil while Doris was given the remaining 30 per cent.

As for the matrimonial land, Esther got 170.5 acres while Doris got 50 acres. Each of the wives was also awarded an equal share of an additional 10 acres of the matrimonial land or proceeds from its sale.

Shares in companies JM had invested in and money he had in bank accounts were also to be shared equally between the households.

“I hope that I have given substantive justice to all under the circumstances of this case which dates back to at least 1985, if not 1975,” Justice Rawal stated after she delivered her ruling on December 8, 2009.

The family was, however, dissatisfied and is back in court. In 2017, Doris claimed that her matrimonial home stands on the Garden Estate property and that her cowives squeezed her out of the land, before leasing it to third parties who now use it to operate Castle Inn.

In one of the applications which stalled the final resolution of the dispute, Doris asked the court to jail her co-wives and Castle Inn’s operators, Maina wa Ihuthia and Riara Kanyuira, for breaching a court order that called for maintaining a status quo on the land.

Doris argued that Castle Inn and her cowives destroyed buildings on the prime property. In their defence, cowives held that only renovations were done on buildings on the land.

The petitioner insisted that as a co-wife, her consent was required before leasing the Garden Estate property to third parties.

Justice Abida Ali-Aroni dismissed the contempt applications in March 2019, and ordered that applications on sharing of the property that were filed in 2009 be heard.

The matter is still awaiting determination. In 2005, JM’s children had sued the government for redress in their father’s murder. They argued that the government was involved and covered up the assassination.

His children faulted the government for failing to protect JM’s land and argued that some of it was invaded by squatters which rendered it inaccessible to the family. The case is still at the High Court.

JM had an undisclosed amount of assets. It is reported that he had shares at Rift Valley Agencies, Laikipia Distributors Limited and other major companies in the country.

In May 2019, the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority took over an undisclosed number of shares that the former legislator held in a tobacco company.

In 2017, the same govt agency took more than 522 shares the Nyandarua North MP held at a top food processing company.

A report by Daily Nation revealed that the family of JM failed to transfer the shares of their patriarch from the tobacco and floor processing companies. 

University of Nairobi students demonstrating against JM Kariuki's murder in 1975.
University of Nairobi students demonstrating against JM Kariuki’s murder in 1975.

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