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Civil servant’s Sh1.2bn wealth that EACC wants to recover

Nicholas Owino Ochiel has unexplained Sh1,206,851,274.11 wealth comprising property, vehicles and cash.
An employee of the Ministry of Lands, who is earning an average of Sh150,000 per month, is said to have accumulated cash and assets worth Sh1.2 billion, including a palatial home in the affluent Karen neighbourhood in Nairobi, raising the eye brows of investigators who want all of it frozen.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has asked the courts to forfeit to the State several parcels of land, houses and luxury vehicles belonging to Nicholas Owino Ochiel after the value of his assets failed to tally with his sources of income.
Mr Ochiel, who is a senior assistant director of valuation at the Ministry of Lands, would ordinarily according to his salary and income from other declared sources like farming be a middle-class Kenyan.
Yet, as his fellow workers contend with surviving in the tough economic times, Mr Ochiel retreats in the evening to a mansion worth at least Sh80 million complete with a swimming pool in the quiet suburbs of Karen.
In the morning, he has the option of beating the Langata or Ngong Road traffic in either a BMW, Toyota Land Cruiser or a Volkswagen; all luxury cars. And as his friends wait to receive their salaries at the end of the month, all the land valuer has to do is check his accounts to see whether tenants from his six apartments spread across the country have paid rent on time.
All these properties worth at least Sh1.2 billion were acquired between 2003 and 2018, yet Mr Ochiel could only account for Sh158 million when confronted by investigators. Cumulatively, the land valuer earned Sh15 million from his government salary and Sh10.9 million from farming during the 15 years he was on a property acquisition spree.
Yet when asked how he managed to acquire such an obscene amount of wealth when he had no other sources of income apart from his salary and farming, he could not give any reasonable explanation. This made investigators to conclude he was engaged in corruption.
“He took undue advantage of his position to confer benefit to himself by entering into contracts with private entities for services he was employed and paid to provide at the ministry,” says an EACC investigation report, which has been filed in court seeking to freeze Mr Ochiel’s assets.
“He is reasonably suspected of corrupt conduct by using privileged official information at the ministry for financial gain through companies associated with him,” says EACC.
Apart from his Karen house, Mr Ochiel owns Ternic Court Apartments in Thome Estate, Nairobi, valued at Sh130 million, an undeveloped land off Parklands Road worth Sh100 million and a commercial building along Kisumu-Busia Road worth Sh190 million that is still under construction.
He also owns three blocks of apartments in Lolwe estate, Kisumu, valued at Sh55 million, Sh53 million and Sh15.5 million respectively plus a massionette in Mirema worth Sh23 million.
Also in his portfolio are several pieces of land spread across the Kisumu municipality, Siaya town, Ugunja, Kajiado, Fort Tenan and Ngong Road in Nairobi. Some of these properties are registered in the names of Mr Ochiel’s wife, Terry Muthoni Maina or Ternic Valuers Limited, a company owned by the two.
Investigators say that Mr Ochiel colluded with Ternic Valuers Limited and Ternic Enterprises Limited, which he also co-owns with his wife to tamper with the valuations of properties that were on sale to get a favourable stamp duty charge.
Stamp duty is a tax charged on several transactions such as stock, shares, or transfer of property by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and is one of the primary incomes for the government.
Valuers at the Ministry of Lands ascertain the value of every property that is up for sale before it changes hands to its new owner. This valuation is independent of the price the seller and buyer have agreed on for the sale.
The new owner then pays 2 per cent for the value of the property if it is in a rural area or 4 per cent if it is located in an urban area to KRA before the title is changed into their name. A property valued by the government at Sh100 million in Nairobi for example will attract a Sh4 million stamp duty.
As a senior valuer, Mr Ochiel had access to all property transactions and confidential information on titles that were just about to change hands at Ardhi House, the Ministry of Lands’ headquarters in Nairobi. Investigators say he used this information to enter into deals with property development companies in exchange for kickbacks running into millions of shillings.
“Mr Ochiel, through the third and fourth defendants, entered into various contracts with property development companies, organisations and other members of the public to facilitate valuation, payment of government stamp duty, title processing and purportedly conducting forensic audit services,” says EACC, which has listed Ternic Valuers and Ternic Enterprises Limited as the third fourth defendants in the case.
According to investigators, Mr Ochiel through Ternic Valuers and Ternic Enterprises Limited approached property development companies or members of the public who had made an application at the ministry for valuation of property that had been put up for sale.
Although the details of the transactions that Mr Ochiel and his two companies did with the property developers he entered into deals with will come up in open court, detectives suspect he used his influence at the ministry to under value or over value the said properties.
Additionally, he is said to have received stamp duty directly from his clients, instead of asking them to pay to KRA as required but still assisted them to transfer property.
“The suspect assessed and received government levies and stamp duty fees from his clients without disclosing to the ministry hence compromising his official duties in favour of personal interest contrary to section 42 of Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, 2003,” says EACC.
He is then suspected to have used the billions of shillings that taxpayers lost through his deals to purchase the luxurious cars and properties, which the EACC now wants the courts to forfeit them to the state. Most of these properties were purchased through Ternic Valuers and Ternic Enterprises Limited.
“Investigations further revealed that the suspect used his wife, Ternic Valuers and Ternic Enterprises as conduits to receive, hold or otherwise conceal funds acquired in the course of or as a result of corrupt conduct,” says EACC.
Among the cars being sought for repossession by the commission is a BMW registration number KBA 250K, a Volkswagen (KBT 860V) and Toyota Land Cruiser (KBC 578Q).
“Pending the hearing and determination of this suit, this honourable court be pleased to grant an order appointing a licensed auctioneer to seize and sell by way of public auction all motor vehicles enumerated here-in above,” says EACC.
Mr Ochiel was first employed at the Ministry of Lands and Settlement as a valuer in 1996. He worked as the principal valuer in the same ministry from 2012 to 2016 before being promoted to be a senior assistant director valuation. – nation.africa.