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Duped and dumped: Pain of tourists in hands of fake agents

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Con artists posing as tour agents have swindled hundreds of tourists from various parts of the world, threating Kenya’s image as a tourist destination.

The con men use fake online campaigns, complete with sweet reviews and budget tourism packages to lure foreigners who make advance payments before they are abandoned in Kenya once they arrive and pay the rest of the cash.

The Sunday Nation has also learnt that the cartel, which runs deep in the industry, has perfected the art of evading law enforcement officers by changing names, staff and tourist vans before resurfacing during high seasons to mint millions from helpless tourists visiting the country.

One of the latest victims of such a scam is Mr Chen Dong Yuan, a 51-year-old Chinese engineer from Changsha, who could not have been more excited to take advantage of the direct flights launched by the China Southern Airlines in June to visit Kenya.

Kenya had lauded the airline’s bi-weekly flights from Changsha and back to Nairobi with its 330-200 Airbus planes, added to the non-stop flights to Guangzhou, as one of the biggest boosts to its tourism sector with prolific tourists from China, ranked by United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) as the world’s top spender on tourism in 2017.

Mr Chen had no idea what awaited him and his five friends in Nairobi after planning and paying 50 per cent deposit to Kenya Walking Survivors Safaris Limited for the eight nights in different tourism spots around the country. That was in early July.

Their plane touched down on the morning of July 31 and what was their lifetime dream to take a nine-day tour of Kenya began with a driver from the company promptly picking them from the airport.

“We went to their officers where I paid $2,820 (about Sh295,000), which he insisted should be in cash. We then set off for Amboseli for two nights as per the itinerary. We had the vehicle but the driver changed outside Nairobi. On our way back, the driver told us the company that handed us to him had suddenly closed and our trip could not continue unless we made fresh arrangements,” Chen told the Sunday Nation, beginning his tragic tale of tourists in the hands of con men. In a foreign country and in the middle of a tour, a sudden stop was unimaginable. Their online guide (Mr Otieno Lysaniash) who also received the money when they arrived, had switched off his phone and true to the driver’s words, the office located at Vision Plaza was closed.

Mr Chen chose to complete the trip when the driver suggested that if they paid more, he would take them to the Maasai Mara, Naivasha and Nakuru as per the previous plan. They agreed and paid, doubling their tour budget and turning an otherwise happy trip into a struggle to beat the cons and survive any other attempt to fleece them. The driver, Stanslaus Ongeri, told the Sunday Nationthat he was only hired as a freelancer by the firm and did not know the whereabouts of its owner, Mr Otieno, who he also claims made him to lose Sh25,000 in unpaid expenses.

The con victims had only Mr Ongeri after they were abandoned. Given the limited time they had and the shock that came with the first attempt to scuttle their trip, they had little choice but to rely on him even to report the matter to the police, despite the mistrust they developed towards him for having been part of the company that swindled them.

In Maasai Mara, they met another group of tourists who immediately identified the driver and attempted to beat him up.

They had been swindled by the same company and it took Mr Chen’s group to protect their driver from the angry tourists, an experience Mr Ongeri admitted but again claimed to have been an innocent freelance driver. It was getting worse and they could not trust him again.

“We hardly slept and every time we had to leave the car, we took the car keys so that he doesn’t abandon us. It is very sad that so many other tourists could be going through such an experience. The Kenyan government must save this situation because it will dampen the desire among those coming to visit the country. We are going back to China very bitter,” Mr Chen, whose case was booked at the Industrial Area Police Station under OB65/2/8/2019, said.

True to his words, many people have suffered under the travel agency, which seems to have mastered the art of swindling foreigners, closing shop and re-emerging only during high season.

The plot involves creating attractive packages and engaging foreigners online in a manner  suggesting good customer service. Once they are in the hook, the tourists, who in many cases have fixed schedules and have no other contact people in the country, are abandoned sometimes at the border crossings between either Kenya and Uganda or deep in the game lodges to find their way back and travel to their home countries.

The con men also change the key contact people once the tourists arrive, including a different driver to cut links before leaving them stranded.

Travel sites have already blacklisted the firm with its reviews, which are said to be doctored to mislead tourists.

“TripAdvisor has grounds to investigate that individuals or entities associated with this property may have attempted to interfere with traveller reviews and/or the Popularity Index for this property. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans,” the travel site flagged on its website this week.

The Sunday Nation could not reach Mr Otieno as his Mombasa Road office remained closed as adjacent shops either feigned ignorance or were too scared to talk about the firm.

Online, tens of tourists from around the world complained of bitter experiences after their trips were cancelled just before their departure dates while dealing with Kenya Walking Survivors Safaris Limited.

Some of those affected from Canada, Argentina, Taiwan, India, US, Brazil and the United Kingdom have reported the cases to the police with little action taken.

“Our honeymoon trip is in three days and we just received an e-mail that the company has technical problems and therefore cannot give the required services. Mr Otieno just wrote that we will receive the funds between 45-90 working days. I’m really panicking,” a couple from the US wrote on Friday.

Kenya received some 2.1 million tourists in 2018, with the US remaining the top source. China, which was ranked sixth, sent 81,709 representing a 4.03 per cent growth from the previous year.

Attempts to reach Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala on the happenings that are now a big threat to tourism in Kenya were futile as it emerged he had accompanied President Uhuru Kenyatta on a tour of  Jamaica.

BY nation.co.ke

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Business

PHOTO: Ken Mijungu unveils own startup company days after being fired from NTV

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Days after being axed from NTV, journalist Ken Mijungu has revealed his next move.

Mijungu took to his social media pages on Monday, July 6, where he announced he was diving into the legal field.

Ken Mijungu unveils own startup company days after being fired from NTVKen Mijungu has announced his next move days after he was axed from TV job. Photo/Source: Ken Mijungu.
Source: Instagram

Posting on his Instagram account, Mijungu, a trained lawyer, shared a photo of his new business with his name boldly encrypted on the wall.

From the photo, it was clear that the former TV journalist was shifting his focus from media to focus on legal consultancy.

View this post on Instagram

Believers will always be believers Mathew 6: 26-34

A post shared by Ken Mijungu (@kenmijungu) on

According to the photo, the former anchor’s firm will be offering legal consultancy on immigration, finance, property, imports and exports.

To affirm that his achievement was a matter of faith, Mijungu captioned the post with a Bible verse.

“Believers will always be believers Mathew 6: 26-34,” he wrote.

Mijungu who many considered as bold and intelligent was among those who were shown the door at Nation Media Group on Friday, July 3.

He shared the news of his firing through a touching Twitter post that saw most of his fans take to the comment section to encourage and console him.

According to his post, the journalist said he was given his termination letter after working for NMG for seven years.

He thanked the station for the opportunity and thanked God for always been there for him.

The NMG firing came a couple of weeks after Mediamax laid off over 100 workers via text messages.

By Tuko.co.ke

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Kenyan business community lauds President Kenyatta for lifting the lockdown

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BY OLIVIA MUNGWANA

The government has lifted the lockdown imposed earlier on major cities following the eruption of the Covid 19 pandemic. The announcement by President Uhuru Kenyatta on 6th July 2020 came just three days after Optiven Group CEO George Wachiuri called on the government to lift the lockdown. Wachiuri who was speaking in Kiambu County said this was imperative if the economy was to grow.

He added that, “while we support every effort to keep our people in good health, we have seen a large number sinking in to depression for lack of jobs and basic needs. The number of families seeking intervention for daily upkeep through the Optiven Foundation has grown tremendously in the last three months.

Wachiuri who is the chairman of the Optiven Foundation was referring to beneficiaries of the Spreading Hope campaign that was launched at the onset of the eruption of Covid 19. To date the Optiven Foundation has supported over 200 families under the campaign with beneficiaries domiciled in Kajiado, Machakos, Nairobi and Nyeri among others.

The eruption of Covid 19 pandemic has contributed to a rundown of the economy, affecting majority of sectors including health, manufacturing, education and many others.

With the pandemic came rising cases of infection and other unforeseen challenges that saw the government seeking partnership with stakeholders to mitigate the situation. Optiven Limited was among the first respondents with the company donating a quarter of a million to the national kitty. Wachiuri says, “as an investor in business in Kenya, Optiven felt this was our call to make a difference.

We believe in what the taskforce is doing to better the situation”. Through the award winning Foundation, the company has in 2020 continued to offer psycho-social support while adhering to the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization recommendations on engagement.

5 Key Facts On the Lifting of the Lockdown

  1. Cessation of movement in Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera lapses on 7th July 2020
  2. Curfew extended for 30 days
  3. Government to revert to lockdown if situation deteriorates or Covid 19 cases surge
  4. Vehicles traveling to and from areas that were previously restricted to be certified by the Ministry of Health
  5. On air travel, local travel to resume on 15th June 2020 while international travel to resume on 1st August 2020

Quote: “I urge all Kenyans to take personal responsibility and avoid unnecessary contact”.
Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya
6/7/2020

Thoughts by

George Wachiuri: A Leading Entrepreneur, a Published Author, Philanthropist, Youth Empowerment Enthusiast, a Family man and CEO of Optiven Group

Contact Optiven Group: 0790 300 300
Email: admin@optiven.co.ke
Website: https://www.optiven.co.ke

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When the deal is just too good … How Urithi members paid millions for air

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Urithi, a housing co-operative that has marketed itself as the best bet for those who cannot afford mortgages, has sold air to unsuspecting Kenyans, killing their dreams of becoming homeowners.

In yet another property scandal, more than 32,000 members of the co-operative are counting their losses.

Those who had taken bank loans to finance their purchases are dealing with double losses, given that they have nothing to show for the money.The losses run into billions of shillings, Urithi having run out of lies to feed its investors.

Some have waited for more than eight years, and are coming to terms with the fact that they have lost their investment.

Its directors, who live large and drive posh cars, ride roughshod over investors and have no time even for direct media inquiries, preferring to use police to silence protesters rather than face their customers and offer solutions.

Urithi chairman, Samuel Maina, in the most recent status update, dated June 2, said the co-operative had profiled every project to give clear timelines and deliverables.

“Over 30 land projects are in good progress and their title deeds shall be delivered in a few months. We have set up a robust communication desk to contact each of the members based on their obligations or payment status,” he said.

Mr Maina said those who understand the Urithi socio-economic model, understand that “each project is independently based on its timelines, region or structure”.

“Each should be addressed as such, without mixing issues,” he added.

Urithi is accused of collecting money from members to buy land, which it used as collateral for loans. Some of the land is now facing auction.

Potential investors were drawn to the projects by enticing adverts, well-planned trips to view the land, with mega ground breaking ceremonies and artistic impressions of what their future homes would look like.

Some were taken to Malindi more than fives years ago, accommodated in a posh hotel and then driven 20 kilometres to be shown the land that they were buying.

Urithi then asked for fencing and title processing money, but after being paid, the sales agents dis-appeared and blocked customers’ calls.

The promise was that they would own the homes within a relatively short time and the payment schedules only sweetened the deal.So they trooped in their thou-sands to join the co-operative. Now they are in tears as they realise that they were duped into buying air. Most agents who sold properties on behalf of the co-operative have also vanished.

The clients are now lining up at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to lodge complaints. For more than two weeks, the Nation has tried to get the company and its agents to talk. Last Friday, Chairman Maina did not pick our calls.

1qBut he sent a text message: “Hello, thanks for inquiring. I will call you once I am free to talk.” He has not communicated.

We asked him what had led to the flood of complaints from distressed members, and what had caused the latest problems.

Simon Gathai

When Mr Simon Gathai invested Sh1.95 million on land within the Nairobi metropolitan, he knew that was what he wanted.

Even though it was covered with coffee bushes, the sales talk that accompanied the artistic impressions of what the estate would look like when completed were enough to convince him to buy it.

“I was told that roads would be constructed, a perimeter wall and common areas for residents,” he told the Nation. He took a bank loan to pay the entire Sh1.95 million for an eighth of an acre plot at Ruiru Ridges in April, 2018.

After paying, Mr Gathai knew it was just a matter of time before he would have land to build his home.

“But ever since, we are still waiting for our titles. They have just been telling us to wait. The whole project seems to be a sham,” offers a disappointed Mr Gathai.

“I have tried approaching the management to be shown my plot so that I can uproot the coffee bushes and develop it but I have not been successful,” he adds.He says the co-operative has been reluctant to call status meetings, fearing members will know each other and mobilise themselves, which would work against its interests.

Meanwhile, Mr Gathai continues to service the loan he took to pay for the land, which pains him.

Benear Shapaya

In 2016, Mr Benear Shapaya attended a ground-breaking ceremony for the co-operative’s housing projects. He was trying to weigh his options on where to invest, especially in property.After the sumptuous meal and flowery speeches on how the co-operative would walk with members to see them own their own homes, Mr Shapaya decided to invest in one of their projects.

In August that year, he secured a Sh1 million bank loan, which he used to book a two-bedroom unit in Joska-OTG Phase 2.

The property’s full cost was Sh1.6 million.He was promised that the project would be completed in two years, and so he proceeded to pay monthly instalments. However, as months turned into years, there was nothing to show for his money.“I don’t even know where the property I bought is. I have tried finding out from Urithi offices but nobody seems to know. It seems I paid money for a project that does not exist,” he says.

When he saw things were not turning out as he expected, in May last year, he wrote to the co-operative, saying he wanted to withdraw his membership and seek reimbursement of the money he paid.

“That was after I made my last payment and went on the ground, only to find there was nothing to show for the money I had paid. I realised we had been duped,” he told the Nation.

He had invested Sh1.4 million and had completed servicing the Sh1 million loan.

‘They do not seem to be interested in finishing the project. Whenever they say they are doing something, it’s just some cosmetic kind of thing,” he says.He now wants his money re-funded after realising it was not a genuine deal. Jane Maina

What motivated Jane Maina to join Urithi was the desire to own a home, and the fact that she worked in Mombasa and did not have the time to supervise the construction of a house.

She considered buying a housing the easier option. In 2016, she joined the co-operative’s OTG-Joska and Juja-Gem projects, where she thought she hoped to own three houses. By the end of 2017, she had completed payments for the OTG project, which cost Sh1.6 million.

During the Annual General Meeting AGM in 2018, Ms Maina says, Urithi Chairman Maina promised members of the project that all the units would be completed by November that year and their houses would be handed to them. That has not happened to date.Ms Main has paid Urithi Sh4.37 million.

She regrets having sold a plot on Thika Road to invest in the project.

Susan Nyaga

Before Susan Nyaga’s husband died, they decided to acquire a house to avoid paying rent.

And she came across the Urithi adverts in late 2016. Since her husband was working in Somalia, she secured a Sh1 million bank loan for the down payment.

She would pay the remaining Sh600,000 in instalments.

Unfortunately, she lost her husband in January 2017 when she was still struggling to settle the balance, as well as service the loan.

“At the time, I was under a lot of stress, having lost my husband. But the co-operative kept asking me to complete my payments while the bank was pushing me to service their loan,” she says.

So she took another bank loan to repay the first one and pay Urithi what she still owed. All the while the co-op promises that the houses would be handed over to the owners by March 2017. But March came and went, without any communication from Urithi.

In April, she visited the site and found out what was happening. It was then that she realised, to her shock, that the house she had been told was almost complete did not even exist.

Meanwhile, the bank from which she had taken the second loan was on her neck. She sold a car and a plot to repay the bank.

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