Three Kenyans are locked in a court battle with a woman in Southeast Asian country Laos over more than 2.3 billion shillings held in Ecobank accounts after the state withdrew a petition that had frozen the money for fear of money laundering.
The three Kenyans — Stephen Maina Njenga, Felix Rantu Lekishe and Solomon Joseph Maina — obtained a court order preventing Ecobank from releasing money held in three bank accounts to KiwiPay PTE Ltd and Monthida Rashi, a Laotian.
Kenyans secured the freeze order amid talks with the Asset Recovery Agency (ARA), which agreed to drop efforts to have the billions seized and confiscated for the benefit of the government.
ARA had suspected that the company was involved in credit or debit card fraud and might be part of an international syndicate.
The state agency alleged that the company was involved in an elaborate money laundering scheme to hide the source of the illicit funds.
But KiwiPay Kenya shareholders began fighting for ownership of the company and a share of the 2.3 billion shillings after the state showed willingness to drop the lawsuit.
The Kenyans claim that they have been let go as directors and shareholders of KiwiPay Kenya Ltd and now want to be bought out, if the parent company – KiwiPay PTE Ltd – no longer wants them as owners of the business. Kiwipay PTE has yet to respond to the complaint and tell the court how the Kenyans became shareholders and were later dropped as owners.
“The 1st (KiwiPay PTE) and 2nd (Ms. Rashi) Defendants are and are hereby invited to redeem the Plaintiffs from the 4th Defendant [KiwiPay Kenya]whether the 1st and 2nd Defendants wish to remain the sole shareholders of the 4th Defendant,” Mr. Njenga states in an affidavit.
The parent company is based in Singapore and claims to handle digital payment services such as QR code solutions for retail stores, hotels and restaurants. It enables foreign e-wallet solutions such as Alipay, SamsungPay, ApplePay, WeChatPay and more.
The attorney general had previously informed the court of suspicions that the company was involved in credit or debit card fraud and was part of an international syndicate.
Kenya has in recent years become a hotbed of suspicious transactions by foreigners conspiring with locals, pointing to weak anti-money laundering laws and loopholes.
This sparked a series of demands by the ARA to freeze and confiscate billions from the government, but the agency in recent days withdrew petitions calling for the seizure of funds transferred to Kenya from Asia, the Middle East and the United States. ‘West Africa.
When KiwiPay Kenya was registered on June 3, 2020, Ms. Rashi and the three Kenyans were listed as shareholders.
Mr. Maina, Mr. Lekishe and Mr. Karimoni each held 2,900 shares equivalent to a 7.3% interest while Ms. Rashi held 8,000 or a 20% interest. KiwiPay PTE held a 58.3% stake, making it the largest shareholder. But the Kenyans were then replaced on September 15 and ownership passed to Ms Rashi, taking her stake to 41.7%.
The company has also recruited Victor Ngure Githua, who holds no shares, as a director.
The anti-corruption tribunal yesterday passed the consent agreement between KiwiPay and ARA which officially lifted the freeze on the 2.3 billion shillings held in Ecobank’s three accounts. The reasons for the consent have not been made public.
The release of the billions will however have to await the outcome of a petition filed by the three Kenyans with the Commercial Division of the High Court. This is after Judge David Majanja blocked Ecobank from releasing the $19.48 million (2.3 billion shillings) from the bank accounts of the Muthangari branch, pending the decision on the petition.
Mr Njenga said a man holding a French passport and identified as Gregory Schmidt made transactions in the three bank accounts, but they are the only signatories and transferred up to 17 million dollars (2 billion shillings) from the company in Kenya and wired it to a bank account in Singapore.
The transactions were made through internet banking between October last year and March 9, 2022, according to court documents.
“In these circumstances, our customers hereby declare a dispute against you, Gregory Smith and Monthida Rashi, for the misuse of the company’s internet banking credentials and the improper and unauthorized withdrawal of money from company accounts,” the petition reads.
The Kenyans claim their sudden removal as directors and shareholders is illegal because the process for their removal was not followed as required by the Companies Act.
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