It was a ‘last laugh’ moment for Humphrey Kariuki on Wednesday, December 7 as the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Directorate of Crimínal Investigations (DCI) oversaw the reopening of his Africa Spirits Limited manufacturing plant in Thika, Kiambu county after a years-long battle that threatened to cost him his multi-billion shilling business.
Africa Spirits Ltd manufactures popular brands including Blue Moon vodka, Legend Brandy and Furaha (whiskey). It is, however only one company in Kariuki’s vast portfolio. Kariuki also owns Dalbit Petroleum, an oil distributor with a presence in several East and Southern Africa countries, Great Lakes Africa Energy, a developer and operator of power projects in Southern Africa, The Hub, a shopping mall in Nairobi’s upmarket Karen neighborhood and the 5-star Fairmont Mt. Kenya Safari Club as well as real estate and other holdings.
Kariuki operates many of his businesses under the umbrella of his holding company, Janus Continental Group. Forbes in 2017 estimated the net worth of Humphrey Kariuki to be around $70 million (Ksh8.4 billion).
“The reopening of Africa Spirit Limited aligns with the need for economic development and independence by maximizing revenue collection,” KRA shared after the plant was reopened, further noting that 26 other alcohol manufacturers they shut down during former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s term had also been reopened.
Kariuki is among prominent businessmen who backed President William Ruto’s State House bid and was present for his inauguration in September. Among other issues, Ruto campaigned on the promise of ending harassment of business owners and closures of businesses over tax issues, promising friendlier policies and better tax dispute resolution mechanisms. A darling of the new administration, Kariuki has also been appointed by President Ruto to the National Investment Council.
Authorities came down on Kariuki hard in 2019, hitting him with a Ksh41 billion tax evasíon case. Officers stormed the ASL plant where more than 300,000 litres of ethanol and 21 million excise stamps were seized, with the DCI claiming the ethanol was smuggled.
The High Court in Milimani, Nairobi would in May 2022 quash the tax case and prohibit Kariuki’s prosecutíon over the matter. Justice Antony Mrima described the prosecutíon of the tycoon and his colleagues as unconstitutional since it was being handled by prosecutors drawn from the KRA instead of the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions.
In the ruling, the Court blamed the ODPP for unconstitutionally acquiescing its prosecutorial mandate to KRA. In the case, investigations were conducted by the National Police Service with KRA as the complainant. The taxman filed a notice of appeal seeking to have the decision overturned.
“Whereas KRA can investigate any offences relating to tax laws, it cannot prosecute such offences in court. Therefore, to the extent that the disputed provision (Section 107 of the Tax Procedures Act, 2015) allows KRA to usurp the prosecutorial powers of the DPP, the provision cannot stand in the face of the Constitution. The provision is, hence, constitutionally infirm,” Mrima ruled.
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