When Humphrey Kariuki's plane landed at Maputo International Airport from Johannesburg, South Africa on Thursday morning, he had no idea a storm was brewing at home.
As he descended the steps of the plane, he was perhaps thinking back to his public service days when he worked as a clerk at the Central Bank of Kenya.
For a man who thrives on information, it can't do well to be unaware.
Still, Mozambique feels like home to the billionaire now wanted by Kenyan authorities over a Sh14.5 billion tax evasion case. There, as in his village of Nyeri, his face is not conspicuous. A fact that hasn't stopped a government he once worked for from prosecuting him.
Few Kenyans could spot him in the crowd. Despite his immense wealth, Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa, the billionaire owner of African Spirits Limited, who is on the scene over alleged tax evasion, is keeping a low profile.
Even in his rural village in Nyeri, where he was born and raised, some people can connect his face to the name. Only his peers in the village of Ndima know about him. Those who are younger know little or nothing about the coveted business tycoon.
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In an exclusive report, using interviews and a wealth of documents in our possession, the Saturday Standard has pulled together Kariuki's life as well as his latest moves, including the fact that the country's law enforcement authorities are considering issuing an international arrest warrant for his business interests around the world. different countries.
Kariuki, whose company has been accused of producing substandard alcohol, has described himself as a "first-generation serial entrepreneur" in several interviews.
From a household of 10 children in Nyeri, Kariuki grew up and built one of the largest business empires in Kenya. Authorities now say some of the foundations on which his business was built fail to stand up to scrutiny.
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Aside from the warrants and his high society lifestyle, nothing about his rural home betrays the opulence that some of his friends know him for. His childhood home is a typical country house with nothing special. The faded maroon ceiling and whitewashed walls give it a run down appearance, the roof slowly tilting to the vagaries of the weather under a canopy of leaves. Boarded up windows peer down a path leading into the grounds, like weary eyes that have seen too much.
But behind these walls was born an insatiable thirst to amass riches. Sometimes, according to the investigations of the criminal police (DCI), in a non-transparent way.
Kariuki was already doing good business in the city in the 1990s. At one point it was a key service provider for the US Embassy, delivering beverages during official Embassy cocktail parties and dinners.
For example, documents in our possession show that he once sold dozens of cases of Blanc Noir, Rheinriesling, Blanc de Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage, Cabaret Sauvignon, Shiraz, as well as a selection of beers for an official embassy event through a company associated with him of about 1.5 million shillings ($15,000).
He also provided catering services to the embassy on various occasions through his restaurants, Green Corner and Twigs.
But soon Kariuki's business ambitions grew beyond the walls of the local embassy. In 1993 he spread his wings and ventured out of the country. First to Uganda where he was a wine supplier for the Kampala American Recreation Association, delivering fine wines from France, Germany and Italy.
In doing so, according to people close to him, he not only made close contacts with traders, but also with vineyard owners in some of the best wine-growing regions in the world. Meanwhile, his hotel business was booming. In fact, it was such a success that at one point the second secretary of the United States Embassy wrote him a congratulatory message:
"Thank you for the excellent service your staff provided in catering the buffet on January 3...I have received numerous compliments on the delicious food and friendly service," wrote then-Second Secretary Frankie Calhoun.
Not only the Americans were at his service.
“The Royal Netherlands Embassy would like to announce that members of this embassy have enjoyed excellent lunches and dinners at Twigs on many occasions. The embassy highly recommends the restaurant..." read a memo from the Dutch embassy in March 1992.
In March 2000 Kariuki's catering business was doing so well that he took out a 99-year lease with NCCK at an annual rent of Shillings 593,800.
In 2005, Kariuki, who may have been planning to swim with the big boys, sold his Green Corner Café restaurant business to Platinum Catering Services for about Sh7.5 million. A bill of sale in our possession dated April 20, 2005 indicates that payment would be made in two installments. A bank check for Sh4million on signing and a further Sh3.5million after six weeks.
But something inside him still wasn't resolved. The world of wine was not enough for the 62-year-old from Ndima. There was a galaxy out there to conquer. And he, or so he thought, was the man who would take the attack to new frontiers. Limits which, according to the director of the Department of State (DPP), now could have included the smearing of tax numbers and the possible evasion of revenue owed to the state.
In short, Nordin Haji, the DPP, says that Kariuki and his empire did not give Caesar what belongs to Caesar. And now Caesar has come to collect. Strong if necessary. Your empire is under siege by police and tax officials.
son of the earth
However, at home there are those who choose to see Kariuki with unchanging eyes. The decision to look beyond the government-painted vision of a tax-evading billionaire and answer more than a few questions. Eyes that still see him as the son of the land he made in Nairobi. A kind of Robin Hood without the horses. Except for the gang of night owls. Except for the good press that followed this mythical fairy tale character. One of Kariuki's brothers stands proud in this corner.
“This is the third time he has been covered in the press. He knows how to take care of himself,” said his older brother Karingithi Ndegwa when we visited his home near the Ndima Tea Factory.
Karingithi, who was then working at the University of Nairobi, claims to have given Kariuki a start in life by securing him a job at the central bank.
“Through my work at the University of Nairobi, I met a friend who worked at the Central Bank and heard that they were hiring staff and asked if my brother could get the job. He was lucky to get it," he said. Kariuki was the second youngest in his family.
Karingithi, who has since retired from university, is a tea and milk farmer living a humble life in Ndima. She says her brother's busy nature has limited interactions with family.
“Last year he came here when we buried our mother. He's a very busy man with businesses in about five countries, but every Christmas we all go to see him in Nairobi.” Next to Karingithi's house is his late mother's house, which is slowly falling apart. About a kilometer from the house, along the Ndima-Itundu Road, is Gathaithi Primary School, where Kariuki spent his formative years.
While most of those he grew up with in the 1960s and early 1970s have a vague memory of him, confirming only that he attended Gathaithi Primary School, others recalled a lanky teenager who was a local champion in endurance racing was
Wachira wa Subaru, who claims to have had ties to the businessman, said they met at one of the inter-school competitions.
“He was a very good runner and we met in Karatina at one of those competitions. Even when he went to high school and I moved to Nairobi, he would always visit me in Grogon," Wachira said.
When his liquor store was first raided a few months ago, former police inspector Joseph Boinett said the former athlete was on the run.
Ironically, due to tax evasion allegations against African Spirits in November 2018, Dalbit Petroleum, another of his companies, was fired during the Oil Authority's 2018 Distinguished Taxpayer awards ceremony.
Janus Continental Group's portfolio includes The Hub, a shopping mall in Karen, Nairobi. Dalbit Petroleum, an oil exploration company operating in eastern and southern Africa; and Great Lakes Africa Energy, a UK-based company developing and operating energy projects in southern Africa. Kariuki is also the owner of the five-star Fairmont Mount Hotel. Kenya Safari Club and neighboring Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy and Animal Orphanage. He also owns Wines of the World Beverages, which imports select wines and spirits, and Goodwood Farm at Nyaribo in Nyeri. It is a horticultural farm that grows produce for export to Europe. Despite being a recluse, controversy has been his constant companion.
In 2016, news emerged that he was a shareholder in Belgravia Services, a company registered in the Seychelles, a tax haven, from the Panama Papers leak, which uncovered companies that channeled their profits through offshore accounts to avoid taxes.
Belgravia specializes in the construction of oil terminals, power plants and related infrastructure. So far it has carried out key projects in Zambia, DR Congo, Kenya and Tanzania.
It is not known where his next destination will be. When you board your plane from Maputo, you have two options: fly straight into the raging storm in Nairobi, or instruct your pilot to land elsewhere where he has growing business interests.
Either way, you'd better put your coat on. The coming storm leaves nothing to be desired.