Money, land and power: The secret life of Mutula Kilonzo
One of Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo’s treasured assets was an old typewriter and a desk kept at his Machakos town office.
Although modern technology has rendered the typewriter irrelevant, the lawyer had no intention of selling or donating either item.
“They helped me make millions of shillings that I have invested in property throughout the country,” he once said in an interview.
Mr Kilonzo, who died in mysterious circumstances last week, was referring to the equipment which he used to make his first million as a young lawyer more than three decades ago.
But this was just one of Mr Kilonzo’s well-kept assets which, in one way or another, could provide clues to the man’s long journey to acquire property, much of which only he knew about.
A long-time family friend who cannot be named discussing the departed Senator’s family issues told the Sunday Nation that because of Mr Kilonzo’s secretive nature, it might be difficult for anybody — including family members — to trace and quantify all his property, believed to be worth billions of shillings.
There are some details which Mr Kilonzo kept to himself.
A clear example, he said, was the contents of a cabinet at his Ngong Road office which only he opened and had a key.
“Yeye peke yake ndiye alikuwa na ufunguo wa hiyo kabati. Tunafikiria ilikuwa na siri zake. (He was the only one who had the key. We suspect it contains his innermost secrets),” said the friend who has known the family for decades.
Mr Kilonzo divorced his first wife — the mother of Wanza and lawyers Kethi and Mutula Kilonzo Junior — in a landmark court case which remains a reference point for students of family law and married the second wife, Nduku, with whom they had four children.
One of them, Muathi Kilonzo, is a London-based financial expert who helped scout for the British pathologist who flew into Nairobi to investigate the cause of the Senator’s death.
The other, Michael Musembi, runs the family’s Tracom business college in Nakuru while Mutune works in Nairobi and Musau in London.
After the divorce case in which he was represented by former electoral commission chief Samuel Kivuitu, the lawyer cut off links with the first wife who lives in Nairobi’s Riara estate.
Mr Kilonzo kept his family life separate from his official engagements. Our source said his wife hardly ever stepped in his office or the Kwa Kyelu ranch where he died.
At the ranch, where he spent most weekends, he was known to entertain guests, some of whom stayed overnight.
According to our source, Mr Kilonzo had over 50 companies with Nduku recorded as a co-director, probably without her knowledge.
He lived a life of grandeur, maintained expensive tastes — like top-of-the-range cars — and had a lasting love for things rustic. Many of his close friends could not disguise the fact that he loved the good life and had a soft spot for members of the opposite sex.
His taste for the finer things in life was manifested in the magnificent Valhalla home in Maanzoni and at the Kilonzo and Company offices premises on Ngong Road.
In Scandinavian mythology, Valhalla is a hall in which heroes killed in battle were believed to feast with Odin for eternity. (Odin was the supreme god and creator, god of victory and the dead.
Wednesday is named after him).
It was a special place. And perhaps in estimation of this, Mr Kilonzo’s Valhalla home was largely out of bounds for the rest of his family.
“It was his hideaway. Not even his wife and children went there. It was his retreat where he spent weekends and rested, away from the rest the world,” said the friend.
And yet for all his grandeur and the cash he splashed, Mr Kilonzo never received a salary. In all the 10 years he served as an MP and Cabinet minister, he never took a cent home.
The Kenya Revenue Authority recovered an estimated Sh120 million from Mr Kilonzo over a Moi-era tax demand.
And up until last year, the battle for the taxes of the maverick senior counsel was still on-going.
The rumour mills were always awash with sensational estimates of the actual amount that he owed the taxman and, depending on who you listened to, this was said to be anywhere between Sh300 million and Sh800 million.
Whether these hundreds of millions represented the principal amounts or included accrued interest remains unknown. But Mr Kilonzo acknowledged that he was carrying a huge tax burden.
In an interview with Capital FM in February last year, he mused about his tax burden.
“I’m actually paying my taxes and my salary has been attached. I would even expect you to donate something to me now that you know I haven’t earned a single cent from Parliament for the past eight years,” he said.
“Can you just calculate for me how much income one would have made to deserve paying Sh350 million as tax?” he was asked.
He never confirmed what the actual figure was but the staggering tax amount points to how fabulously wealthy he was.
But, despite this, a close political ally and lawyer told the Sunday Nation that Mr Kilonzo always collected Sh200,000 from his law firm every Friday before heading out of town.
Although not known for his generosity — journalists would tell you that they didn’t consider him highly in that regard though he was a great news source — those close to him say he surrounded himself with cabinets full of money in his offices and homes (probably a habit picked up from retired President Moi, his mentor and long-term client).
When a Sunday Nation team visited his Valhalla home in December 2010, Mr Kilonzo said he spent Sh700,000 a month to feed his three lions – Mutula, Nduku and Sis — that he had adopted from the Kenya Wildlife Service. In fact, KWS had appointed him a warden so he could keep the animals.
He would later add two cheetahs – Mutula and Ocampo — and the costs could only have gone higher.
In addition, Mr Kilonzo kept at least three buffaloes, a wild pig named Mutula, more than 1,200 leopard tortoises, Ferret monkeys, Thompson’s gazelles, zebras, giraffes and elands. He also reared camels, beef and dairy cattle and goats. He was also a beekeeper besides engaging in greenhouse farming and rearing fish.
He told our team that the ranch actually belonged to Mwaki Foundation which he said he founded in 2007 for his philanthropic efforts. Mwaki is Kamba for a builder.
On the foundation’s website, the Kwa Kyelu Ranch falls under the foundation but there is no mention of the Valhalla home, which is also on the ranch.
This points to the possibility of layers of trusts and companies that might actually hold what is his real wealth. He is reported to own other ranches and farms elsewhere in Machakos, Makueni and Nakuru where he bought land initially belonging to the Kenyatta family, in addition to homes in Nairobi and Mombasa.
The Maanzoni ranch is named on the Mwaki Foundation website as a “wildlife rescue centre under the auspices of Mwaki Foundation, a charitable institution. It houses animals that are endangered or injured.”
The sanctuary welcomes tourists to enjoy the day and spend the night at cottages which are all self-contained from prices that start at Sh2,500 a night. “In the cottages, you get to do your own cooking from already equipped and stocked kitchen with gas and refrigerator plus utensils with provisions from a canteen located a few metres away.
“I’m building the cottages because I want more and more people to come and see how we can conserve nature,” Mr Kilonzo said in December 2010. “For school groups or churches they can come and tour for free as long as it is arranged. The country has to understand the value of conserving our heritage.”
The family agreed on Friday to bury the Senator in his home in Mbooni, next to his grandmother whom he proudly called ‘susu’ (granny), according to his Will.
Mr Kilonzo loved his grandmother even in her death and he kept her memory alive.
One of his buildings in Machakos town is named “Susu Centre” while, in his Nakuru farm, one of the products is called “Susu Ghee”.
Mr Kilonzo heavily invested in land. Apart from the 1,500 acres Kwa Kyelu ranch, he had a similar ranch in his Mbooni home and a huge agricultural tract of land measuring hundreds of hectares in Nakuru.
He owned several buildings in Machakos town, among them the Susu Centre where his private office was designed in a way that when he sat in his chair, he had a view of his former school — Machakos Boys.
“It reminds me of many things; the boyhood things”, he once told this writer.
But it is at the Kyumbi trading centre on the Machakos junction near the Kwa Kyelu ranch that he had bought numerous plots.
A lot has been written about his work ethic, especially his punctuality and discipline. A lawyer who once worked for him revealed that Mr Kilonzo always arrived in the office at exactly 7 am and never allowed any of his workers to stay in the office after 5 pm.
“He would remain in the office up to 8 pm but did not entertain any of us after five. He would order you to leave if he found you there.”
A slave of time, the veteran lawyer had a habit that remains a challenge to many professionals today. Besides meetings, one of the biggest sources of headache for the office worker is correspondence — prompt communication of decisions, replying to mail and all.
Mr Kilonzo replied to every letter addressed to him, regardless of value or importance.
“If he had no position over the subject matter, he would at least acknowledge receipt,” the lawyer said.
A proud father and respector of the written word, Mr Kilonzo wrote letters to his children, Kethi and Kilonzo Junior, when they were admitted to the Bar.
“Welcome to the club of lawyers. But I will remain the chairman, secretary and treasurer of this law firm,” he wrote to them making reference to his Kilonzo and Company advocates.
Kethi won the admiration of many Kenyans when she appeared before the Supreme Court last month and calmly but authoritatively made her case during the presidential election petition.
Mr Kilonzo believed that without financial independence, one cannot be an independent and professional lawyer. He argued that you’d rather have one case and do it properly than many and handle them shoddily.
Mr Kilonzo never discussed salaries for lawyers who worked for him. Their pay was determined by the amount of work they did.
He would take leave in August.
“That time he will not step in the office. He will not take calls even if he was required to handle a multi-million-shilling client,” said a lawyer who once worked with him.
But the good-humour masked a ruthless man who could do everything in defence of Moi.
During his hey-day, some of his best friends included former Cabinet minister Franklin Bett and lawyers Maxwell Ombogo and Simon Mauncho. Mr Kilonzo was introduced to Moi by Kanu stalwart Hosea Kiplagat.
His close links to power and good fortune are also attributable to his connections with former Intelligence chief William Kivuvani.
He was keen to cut the image of a champion of the rule of law, due process, justice and fair play but critics say Mr Kilonzo’s history shows a ruthless main whose conduct contradicted the principles he purported to advocate.
He wore the hypocritical mask very carefully. He could contravene the very principles he purported to cherish in defence of Moi. His tactics included intimidation, blackmail or having his victims sacked.
Two Seniour Counsel who are familiar with his conduct and influence over the years say he engineered the removal of some judges who made decisions that were unfavourable to the Moi regime.
Two of them — Ghananian Edward Torgbor and Briton J.A. Couldrey — had their contracts terminated after ruling that a 1992 election petition against President Moi by Ford Asili’s Kenneth Matiba was validly filed.
The bone of contention was that Mr Matiba’s petition was signed by his wife, Edith, because he was ailing. Moi’s lawyers argued that such was improper and asked the High Court to dismiss the petition.
But the judges were not persuaded by the argument and declared that the case could go on.
However, the Court of Appeal, comprising among others Judge Riaga Omollo, who has been accused of favouring Moi, quashed the decision.
Shortly after, the government declined to renew the judges’ contracts.
It is instructive that then Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Joseph arap Letting wrote to Justice Torgbor ahead of the expiry of his contract advising him that the government would not be renewing it.
“Mr Kilonzo was key in the move,” says the top lawyer.
“I saw correspondence in which he was advising Moi that the foreign judges were working in cahoots with the Opposition to bring down his government.”
Another confidant told Sunday Nation how Mr Mutula, at one point, used the state agencies to scuttle former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo’s Sololo/NSSF deal over Hazina Estate.
Mr Kilonzo, who was acting on behalf of a group of politicians led by former VP George Saitoti, felt that Mr Jirongo, then chairman of the Youth for Kanu lobby group, was pushing for appointment of a different politician to the position.
They them came up with a strategy to cut him to size, by frustrating his business interests, including cautioning lenders against him as well as projecting the former YK’92 boss as a threat to national security. Government agencies such as the Special Branch, the Lands Office, the Registrar of Companies and the Criminal Investigations Department were drawn into the matter.
In a June 16, 1993 secret letter, Mr Kilonzo asked then head of Public Service Philip Mbithi to order the CID to “induce/seduce Jirongo to surrender title deeds, and log books and to ask the Special Branch to mount detailed surveillance on Jirongo and associates to ascertain whether they are a threat to State security as a result of the massive cash believed to be in his possession.”
Officials who declined to be involved in the matter were removed or transferred.
Mr Jirongo had borrowed from the NSSF and PostBank to build the Sh1.2 billion Hazina Estate but the Mutula group was working to ensure the lenders withdrew from the deal. They succeeded but a protracted legal battle saw the property returned to Mr Jirongo early last year.-Daily Nation