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Cytonn’s glass house cracks



Cytonn Investment Limited is a brick baked in the kiln of defiance; that it takes to hitting people’s heads even when it contains structural weaknesses within, may have it crack and crumble at the behest of the capital markets regulator.

While the real estate company has been fending off angry investors who claim they have defaulted on their payments while at the same time battling the regulator over the affairs of its real estate funds, one company which shares an origin story with Cytonn has been making one of the most exclusive property sales in the Kenyan market.

Acorn has been selling a Sh4 billion real estate trust for developing new units through D-Reit and another Sh4.1 billion for an I-Reit, equity investments in its projects.

Accorn has delivered Qwetu student accommodation and is now targeting bachelors with proposed development of first time home owners. It has been able to raise money from the world’s top institutional investors including issuing the first green bond in Kenya and listing it on the London Stocks Exchange and the Nairobi bourse.

How the two companies ended up with very different fates may be a matter of execution, disparate fortunes and how their top men chose to bounce back from the 2013 gamble that set them on their current path.

What many do not know is that these two real estate developers have some things in common, the concept, owners and a history that dates back to 2013 when they were first mooted to the country’s Murang’a billionaires from the famous Rwathia village.

Mr Edward Kirathe CEO Acorn and Edwin Dande, chief executive Cytonn were working together under very different circumstances for a partnership to deliver housing projects to Britam. At the time, Dande was managing director for British-American Asset Managers Limited.

Less confrontational manner

In November 2013 the two upstarts eager to make their mark and their fortune presented their joint venture ideas to the older owners of capital, Dr Benson Wairegi, Peter Munga and Mr Jimnah Mbaru among other top Britam owners at a two day reclusive retreat.

“The express purpose was to understand the real estate industry and business context and the opportunity to discuss and agree on the strategy and structure to unlock the opportunity; to review the expectations, roles and responsibilities of each party in this partnership,” court documents in court cases against Cytonn reads.

The partnership led to the first attempt to bring high yielding real estate products through selecting locations in Nairobi with mezzanine funding, a hybrid of debt and equity financing.

EvenDale Development, Starling Park properties, Crimson Court Development, Sinopia Properties and Mikado Properties were supposed to be the first of the projects.

But the older billionaires would develop cold feet at the complexity of the projects, the mezzanine financing while disagreeing on structure of control and ownerships.

Dande led a group of fellow young upstarts Elizabeth Nkukuu, Patricia Wanjama and Shiv Arora eager to make their money, out of Britam in a huff in late 2014 to form Cytonn.

The older Britam billionaires, however, decided to exact their vengeance when they paraded Cytonn and Acorn in court and accused them of theft in civil and criminal suits.

While Acorn learned to play the game in less confrontational manner negotiating a consent with Britam to return the properties rather than fight publicly, Dande was more confrontational taking on the big boys in scathing public attacks in what became a mudslinging court contest.

Fighting regulations

Perhaps he had had a taste of blood and had developed a stomach for it, seeing that now he has taken up a crusade against bankers who control the capital markets structures for fundraising.

Dande has taken the Capital Markets Authority to court twice this year petitioning for a judicial review challenging rules of the established game.

He says he is fighting regulations that require only one bank to act as custodian of a fund, only five banks being allowed to act as trustees for a fund and wants specialised funds to be allowed to operate in the market.

He claims he is also crusading against conflict of interest at CMA where parties who own banks are in charge of the regulator and says as a result, he is facing arbitrary or selective application of regulations against him.

“You can’t just wake up and write to people letters that contradict what are in your regulations,” he said.

Perhaps by chance or design, activist Okiya Omtatah has picked his cue and is openly challenging the appointment of the CMA board and accusing its chairman James Ndegwa of conflict of interest.

Mr Omtatah claims Mr Ndegwa is conflicted for allegedly being chairman of First Chartered Securities (FCS), which owns ICEA Lion. ICEA Lion owns ICEA Lion Asset Managers, which manages the ICEA Money Market Fund, a body regulated by CMA.

ICEA Lion acquired Stanlib, hence Stanlib Money Market Fund, which is also regulated by CMA while FCS owns a 12 percent stake in NCBA, which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange and runs the NCBA money market fund, which is also regulated by CMA.

Signs of collapse

But Cytonn is living in a glass house while throwing stones, the regulator says that the company is in several breaches and is already showing tell a tale signs of collapse and defaults on its unregulated funds.

When coronavirus hit this year, Cytonn investment invoked Force Majure- Act of God clause, in their contracts saying the pandemic saw their own clients default on Sh1.5 billion in two real estate projects the Ridge and the Alma, which meant they could not service their loans and repay investors.

Correspondence shows that Cytonn sought to default on its maturing debts of Cytonn project Notes and 19 percent interest payments and principal on one Cytonn High Yield Fund, and had asked investors to pick one of three options.

Clients would either extend maturities by 12 months, those with over Sh10 million would have the option of taking up units in the company’s real estate or they would enter into a two year standstill during which no payments will be made.

“We were getting 1,000 withdrawal a day. Of course when there is negative publicity you will always get withdrawal. We just provide information and in the fullness of time we believe investors will get the information,” Dande said.

Cytonn’s other regulated funds are also facing a crisis since CMA demanded it reduces exposure of its high yield fund in two of its real estate properties, the Alma and Applewood citing breach of investment guidelines.

Cytonn put Sh123 million in the real estate properties which is 64 percent of the money pooled by investors in the Cytonn High Yield Fund, a Collective investment scheme (CIS).

This is contrary to CMA regulations that only allow pooled fund to invest less than 25 percent in one single entity. Further the law prohibits CIS funds from investing more than 10 per cent in related parties which means Cytonn has breached both limits.


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VIDEO: Bonus Value Add for Garden of Joy customers



Finally, it’s all joy for those who bought the Garden of Joy (GOJ). Optiven has pulled a positive surprise by kicking off the installation of hundreds of green solar lights along all the estate roads. The launch happened today when the GOJ was declared a green project.

The engineer installing this green energy friendly street lights lauded Optiven for being an Eco-friendly organization and openly subscribing to suitable development goals no 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and no 7 ( Affordable and clean energy)

Among the guests who attended this event was Justina Syokao of the popular 2020 hit song.

The installation was packed with joy as the Garden of Joy joined other Optiven projects that have already gone green.

We urged all our customers to join the green movement by building houses that have natural light, use water recycling technologies such as bio digester, trees planting and managing waste.

This project is now ready for occupation and customers have already started building fast and furious

The plots are on offer at 1.295M up to the 30th October. The offer will be 1.495 from 1st of Nov

Secure your property today with only 200k and enjoy a 12 months installment plan

If you want to join this green project, get in touch with us Today:
Phone: 0790 300 300 | 0723 400 500
Visit our Website for more details:
We were live at Garden of Joy.

Kindly click the link, share and let’s create engagement as we talk about how we can participate in the Green Agenda. #GardenOfJOYgoesGREEN


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I bought a car from an online bazaar, but it ended in tears



Buyer beware! The sleek car that you saw on that online bazaar may not be on sale – but a ruse to rip you off.

Three buyers fell for this trap, hoodwinked by a smooth-talking ‘salesman’ who promised to help them upgrade their cars, in a saga that ended in tears.

And the victims had thought that because a lawyer was involved in the transaction, this protected their interests as well. However, the manner in which they lost their cash raises questions about his role.

The address was an office block in the city centre, where the sale agreements would be drafted, buyers would part with their cash and the seller would thereafter vanish into thin air without delivering the vehicle.

Since 2018, when one of the cases was reported, the victim is yet to recover his money, with the lawyer claiming he did not know the seller.

This year, however, two more people have fallen prey to the scam and it’s unclear how many more have been conned.

Wanted to upgrade his car

Earlier this year, Mr Kelvin Ngugi, 23, wanted to upgrade his KBX Toyota Sienta and, while scrolling through the internet one evening, he came across a dealer who identified himself as Mr Ronald Bundi on, the online classifieds website that acquired OLX.

Mr Bundi was willing to trade in Mr Ngugi’s old vehicle and Mr Ngugi, impressed at the convenience of that possibility, began making arrangements for that to happen.

However, before the deal could be closed, Mr Bundi informed him that the trade-in option was no longer viable.

He was left with the sole option of selling his car to buy the one he wanted, a white Toyota Sienta, registration KCQ.

Mr Ngugi hunted for a buyer, sold it and reached out to Mr Bundi for the car he wanted. He was informed the car was still available at a showroom along Kiambu road at Sh600,000.

“The plan was that I pay a Sh500,000 deposit and remit the balance in instalments of Sh25,000,” recalled Ngugi.

Mr Kelvin Ngugi.

On February 19, when they were to close the deal, Mr Bundi advised Mr Ngugi to meet him at lawyer Wilberforce Mariaria Nyaboga’s office at Uniafric House, along Koinange Street, for the payment and signing of a sale agreement.

“The lawyer finished drafting the agreement at around 3:45pm and asked me to go withdraw the deposit since the banks were about to close and pay in cash. He advised that the payment be done at his office so that in case of anything, he’d be held liable,” Mr Ngugi recounted.

Mr Ngugi says he did as advised, returned with the money and gave it to the lawyer, who, alongside the seller, started counting it.

When they confirmed the amount, the seller offered to go get the car with Mr Ngugi’s father from a garage in Hurlingham.

Mr Bundi explained the car had been taken to Hurlingham to be fitted with an alarm system to ease its tracking in the event Mr Ngugi failed to remit the balance.

Unbeknown to Mr Ngugi, this was the seller’s trick to get away with his money.

The two stepped out to hop onto motorbike taxis to speed them to the garage, but Mr Bundi sped past Mr Ngugi’s father and disappeared.

“Later Dad called to inform me that they had lost him. We tried reaching Bundi on the phone in vain.  That is how I realised I had been conned,” he said.

Mr Ngugi says he recorded a statement with a Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officer at Central Police Station but that is yet to bear any fruit.

He says the police have been unable to track down both Mr Bundi and the lawyer, even on the occasions the latter is spotted at his office.
On Thursday, the lawyer denied knowing Ngugi and ever having drafted the agreement.

Another victim

After giving up hope of ever recovering the Sh900,000 she paid for a Toyota RAV4, Ms Florence Awour (36) decided to share her predicament on a Facebook’s parenting group to expose Mr Bundi, who had conned her too.

Ms Awuor had spotted the car at and involved her brother in making the purchase. She paid Sh1.1 million through the lawyer’s Equity Bank account but never got the car.

Ms Florence Awour.

Nation Media Group

Her brother had been assured the car was at a yard along Kiambu road. Her brother and a mechanic had checked out and test-driven the car twice before she paid for it.

Mr Bundi asked to meet her brother at the same lawyer’s office, where the sale agreement was signed but when they went for the car at Tito Motors along Kiambu road, her brother was told by the attendants that Mr Bundi wasn’t known to them.

She conducted a search on the car’s registration and realised her brother had also been given a fake logbook.

“I alerted the car’s owner, who in turn filed a report with a DCI officer at Central Police Station under OB number 67/26/02/2020.”

After publicising her tribulations, she said the lawyer refunded Sh200,000 and alleged the balance had been wired to the seller.

Yesterday, the lawyer acknowledged he refunded the money but after realising that the deal had gone sour. He admitted to having recorded a statement at Central police station where the matter has been pending under investigation for months.

“I was acting on behalf of the two because they came to me asking for an agreement to seal their deal. I am therefore not to blame. I am also aware that the police have been hunting the seller who I only know as Robert, who is unknown to me,” he said.

The sale agreement however was with Alice Nancy Momanyi.

Seller disappeared into thin air

Henry Munene Muchiri (35) also gave up after a long wait for justice. He said police were unable to help him recover Sh600,000 paid for a Toyota Sienta bought via OLX but was never delivered to him in 2018.

“After expressing my interest, I was taken to a yard on Ngong Road where I saw the vehicle, inspected it and agreed to make a purchase.”

A Toyota Sienta 2010 model.

File | Nation Media Group

But before the car was released, Mr Munene was asked to accompany the seller to his lawyer’s office in town to sign a sale agreement.

“At some point everything was fine, the car’s logbook and search hinted at no foul play until I was asked to make the payment. Apparently they did not have a bank account so I was requested to pay in cash and I brought the money to the lawyer’s office.”

At some point the seller said he needed to rush downstairs to pick up a laptop for use in the transaction but he never came back.

“The lawyer claimed he didn’t know the seller in person and I reported the matter at Central Police Station under OB number 146/10/7/18 but the investigating officer kept asking for a facilitation fee to speed up investigations. I later gave up and returned to Kirinyaga,” he said.

On Monday, DCI detectives at Central Police Station said the lawyer had already recorded a statement.

Efforts to contact Mr Bundi were futile. His contacts as received from the victims were out of service and others were not being picked.

Cash withdrawn immediately

However, an attempt to send Sh5 to one of Mr Bundi’s contact to get his Mpesa-registered name was successful. The amount was, however, withdrawn from his end as soon as it was received. A text message the Nation sent to this number thereafter requesting his response to the claims by the victims wasn’t responded to.

After placing a call and sending a text message to the lawyer on Tuesday, October 20, requesting his response to the claims by the victims, he called back but declined an interview on phone.

Mr Mariaria told this writer to meet him on Wednesday, October 21, in his office. The meeting was then pushed to Thursday when the lawyer denied claims of acting in collusion with Mr Bundi.

He explained that although he had drafted two agreements in the past for transactions in which the buyers never got the vehicles, he has never been involved in any deal with Mr Bundi.

Mr Mariaria added he could not recall parties to the transactions because he offers legal services to many people.

“People come to me after agreeing to sell and buy cars from each other and all I do is sign the agreement and witness the transaction,” added the lawyer.

Denies culpability

Asked whether he was concerned about his office being used to swindle Kenyans money, he responded he cannot stop people from flocking to his office in search of legal services.

“The only mistake I committed was receiving Florence’s money in my account. Otherwise, there are too many criminals in town and cars are being sold every day. The only thing I can do is to be careful next time,” the lawyer said.

Jiji, a subsidiary of Digital Spring Ventures, acquired OLX from five countries in its efforts to become the leading classified marketplace in the world by traffic.

The transactions made through the platform are virtual, which exposes it to abuse but to cushion its clients from theft, the website advises buyers to only make payments for items bought after successful delivery.

“Avoid anything that appears too good to be true, such as unrealistically low prices and promises of quick money,” further reads the disclaimer.


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Why we built and turned our house into a resort



When architect Dorothy Abonyo’s husband, architect Erastus Abonyo, received a call that the beach plot they had been looking for had been found in Sakwa, Siaya, they were elated.

The land had been standing idle for many years and snubbed by potential buyers because of the many bushes around it, but they saw the potential in it. “When my husband asked us (his family) what we thought about the piece of land, and suggested how we could use it, we were sold out. We loved the scenery and the fact that it was on the shores of Lake Victoria,” narrates Dorothy.

With the go ahead from his family, the land was bought in 2016 and they began clearing the bushes and fixing the road to the land. In 2017, the family comprising of four, all architects, began the process of designing and building their dream house on the land.

“I am an architect with my own practice, Tekto consult, my husband and our first- born child are architects. Our second born is studying interior design and architecture abroad. The house was designed by our first born, Teddy Abonyo, who was then a final year student,” says Dorothy, who has been practicing architecture for about 30 years.

Shared responsibility

To them, building the house was a small project that they felt their son could handle. Dorothy came in to strengthen the design and add a few details and her husband did a lot of work in the initial stages, such as fencing and setting up structures where people could sleep in. Dorothy, who became the senior architect to the project, opted to stay and oversee the process of building the home.

“It was frustrating supervising the project while living in Nairobi where I work. Every time I came to check on the progress of the project, I would find workers have messed things up, which meant we had to start all over again. So I decided to stay and oversee the project by myself and when I took a break, I would close the entire site until I came back,” she narrates.

Low business as a result of the 201 7 elections that year also allowed Dorothy extra time to focus on the project. And in 2018, the three-bedroom house was completed. It was constructed with as much natural materials as they could find in the area.

For instance, the pebbles they used on the exteriors of the house were mostly picked from their land while the rest were harvested from their neighbour’s land. Nyanza being a relatively hot place, the house was designed with thick walls that shield the interior from heat penetration. “When you have thin walls, heat goes in easily. We used cladding, which is attaching a layer of stones outside of a house to safeguard it from the weather effects. With the two thick walls, it will take a long time for the heat to penetrate,” Dorothy explains.

The house was meant to be their retirement home, but they changed their mind after realising that the beauty and the set up spoke more and decided to share it with the public.

“We gave it a second thought and opted not to just have this place to ourselves as our boys were now old. Our second born is out of the country, he may or may not come back and is too old to even want to live with us. The last born too is on his way out meaning that it’s just me and my husband, so we decided to make it a holiday home,” she shares.

Getting into hospitality

That’s how their retirement home became a beautiful resort. Having come from the construction industry, the family knew nothing in hospitality except what they had experienced during their travels. “We have also travelled a bit and in particular, my trip in two cruises one at west Mediterranean cruise with the royal Caribbean for seven days in water really made me learn a bit on hospitality. Though we were over 5,000 guests, the staff took care of us as if we were five guests and there was no one time that we went to the restaurant and missed food. Their service, unlike other hotels I had been to, was superb,” she recalls.

Having unanimously decided that their home would be turned into a resort, the family came together to name it. Dorothy’s choice, Pi Kidi, won. Pi means water in the Luo, while Kidi meant the stones. The area too was green and lush, so it also functions as a garden resort.

“Not many people were comfortable with the fact that you can share your home with strangers, but it’s a new trend, they have eventually gotten used to it. The boys then came up with the idea of putting up tents saying that their age mates would fancy that. So we set up a campsite that’s pretty formal, but we are also thinking of opening up the bush for people who are more adventurous and just want to camp by the water or in the bush,” Dorothy adds.


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