Investigations into Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) manager Joseph Chege Gikonyo have revealed that the bureaucrat’s Sh597 million portfolio may have been built on bribes paid by clearing and forwarding firms at the Mombasa port in return for releasing cargo or lowering their tax liabilities.
Yesterday, Mr Gikonyo, his wife Lucy Kangai Stephen and their company Giche Limited denied charges of tax evasion before chief magistrate Lawrence Mugambi.
Mr Mugambi granted the couple Sh5 million bail each, with an alternative of Sh10 million bond each.
In his ruling the court released the two accused on a cash bail of Sh5 million saying the amount is commensurate to the amount claimed in tax.
“The amounts involved are huge and bail must be commensurate with the claim involved so that the public can have confidence with the administration of justice,” Mr Mugambi ruled while granting bond.
The couple and their firm, Giche Limited, have been accused of evading Sh38.6 million in taxes, which accrued from wealth made between 2010 and 2015.
Mr Gikonyo’s day job involved valuations and document processing for goods imported through the Mombasa port.
Importers usually hire clearing and forwarding firms to pay and obtain document clearance from the KRA.
In netting Mr Gikonyo, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) detectives traced 20 clearing and forwarding agents who said that paying the KRA bureaucrat to release their cargo had become a normal occurrence.
Joseph Chege Gikonyo and his wife in the dock on June 30, 2020. PHOTO | RICHARD MUNGUTI | NATION MEDIA GROUP
The 20 clearing and forwarding agents tracked down by detectives admitted to paying Mr Gikonyo Sh258.4 million to have their goods released.
Investigations corroborated the claims, as they indicated that Mr Gikonyo received Sh43.9 million through mobile money transfer and Sh214.4 million in cash.
Mr Gikonyo’s wife, Lucy Kangai Stephen, is now entangled in the saga as detectives say she benefitted from the ill-gotten wealth.
Ms Stephen is also a co-director of Giche Limited, an investment company Mr Gikonyo incorporated to expand his investment portfolio.
Giche Investments is currently worth at least Sh597 million, having acquired properties in Nairobi, Kilifi and Mombasa Counties.
The EACC in 2018 filed a recovery suit against Mr Gikonyo, Ms Stephen and Giche Limited following two years of investigations.
On Monday, Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji approved the EACC’s request to press tax evasion charges against the trio.
The recovery suit has revealed that Mr Gikonyo has at least 10 houses and apartment blocks spread across Nairobi, Mombasa and Kilifi.
Mr Gikonyo also has stocks in Equity Bank, Safaricom and KenGen. He has policies with Madison Insurance and the Kenya Reinsurance Corporation.
When the anti-graft courts froze Mr Gikonyo’s assets in 2016 pending an Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) probe, his six bank accounts had a cumulative Sh15.1 million balance.
Mr Gikonyo and his wife were yesterday directed to deposit their travel documents in court and warned against leaving the jurisdiction of the court without permission.
Applying for their release on bond, defence lawyers Abbas Esmail and Gibson Kimani stated that the prosecution of the two is an abuse of the court process since they have been paying the arrears claimed by KRA.
“Mr Gikonyo, is an assistant manager with KRA but is on interdiction,” Mr Esmail told the magistrate.
Mr Esmail said Mr Gikonyo developed the properties in Mombasa through a bank loan.
EACC officers picked the accused from his residence in Mombasa and drove him to Nairobi to face trial.
State prosecutor Annette Wangia insisted that the issue before the magistrate’s court is purely about tax.
She argued that an individual can be charged even after taxes have been levied.
The case will be mentioned in July 13, 2020 for pre-trial directions.