USIU ordered to pay lawyer Sh150m in land tussle with Moi
Prominent lawyer Paul Ndung’u has been allowed to collect Sh152 million in legal fees from United States International University-Africa (USIU-A) after the institution fired him for failing to disclose his past dealings with a 20-acre piece of land it is fighting over with former President Daniel Arap Moi, Equity Bank head James Mwangi and US-based businessman George Kiongera.
USIU-A had asked High Court Judge Stephen Okong’o to stop Mr Ndung’u from demanding the legal fees until the cases regarding the land in Muthaiga, Nairobi, in which the lawyer represented it, have been heard and determined.
Mr Ndung’u sued USIU-A last year demanding legal fees. USIU-A insists that Mr Ndung’u is not entitled to legal fees because he failed to disclose his past dealings with the land before agreeing to represent the university.
It added that, in failing to disclose the information, Mr Ndung’u denied it an opportunity to decide whether or not to retain him as its lawyer.
USIU-A held that, having terminated the lawyer’s services, he has no right to hold onto the university’s case filings. But Mr Ndung’u says that his retainer is not disputed, and that Kenya’s laws provide that a lawyer whose retainer has been terminated is entitled to fees.
The land battle itself has proven to be one of the most complex in recent times, as each of the three parties laying claim to it have filed documents to prove that they legally paid for the prime property.
Justice Okong’o has allowed the lawyer and his firm to hold onto USIU’s case file as security for the Sh152 million legal fees. The judge ruled that the retainer has not been contested and no orders have been sought against Mr Ndung’u or his firm in the cases regarding the Muthaiga land, and hence there is no basis to stop payment of the money until the property dispute is resolved.
Ndungu Njoroge & Kwach Advocates has been representing USIU-A since 2017, when the university sued to stop Maestro Connections Health Systems Ltd — owned by US-based businessman George Kiongera — from occupying and developing the land.
Mr Ndung’u demanded legal fees for representing USIU-A in two of the three cases regarding the land, whose value is now closer to the billion-shilling mark.
In court, USIU-A says DPS International sold the 20.3-acre parcel to insurance firm ICEA, which then sold it to the university.
But Mr Mwangi and Dr Kiongera both claim to have bought the land directly from Mr Moi, who insists that he has never sold the land, and that anyone claiming to have bought the property from him was conned. Mr Moi has accused Mr Andrew Sunkuli, a brother of his former aide Julius Sunkuli, and lawyer Samson Omwanza Ombati of illegally selling the land.
The lawyer and his firm, Omwanza & Nyasimi Company Advocates, are being investigated for fraud by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) following a complaint by Mr Mwangi’s Muthaiga Luxury Homes.
Last month, Justice Okong’o allowed Dr Kiongera to enjoin Mr Moi and his lawyers OOOK Law as respondents in the case. Dr Kiongera’s lawyers Okatch & Partners Advocates argued that once Mr Moi denied selling the land, it was crucial to have both the former President and the law firm that received money on his behalf.
Dr Kiongera claims he paid Sh500 million for the land in June 2016. He has attached a sale agreement in court that bears Mr Moi’s signature and enjoined DPS International, Mr Ndung’u and his law firm in the suit as respondents.