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‘King of mean’ billionaire tax cheat meets his waterloo

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If you are pondering how storied but solitary businessman Humphrey Kariuki Ndegwa is, do the math of how much Africa Spirits Limited (ASL) was making from the sale of Legend Brandy.

The stockist price of one 250ml Legend Brandy bottle is Ksh145. The bottles are packaged in cartons carrying 24 pieces each. A large scale stockist moves a minimum of 480 cases per month. This would translate into revenues of Ksh1.67 million from moving the brand through one stockist in any of Kenya’s three cities alone every month.

At the very least, there are 12 large scale stockists in one city.

Now, do the math for the whole country times the number of years you are interested in knowing how much he made from one brand without accounting for the other brands under the ASL and Wines of the World (wow) beverages distributorship to get a glimpse of the figures he is accustomed to.

But it seems all the money in the world could not stop Kariuki from being a tax cheat.

He is being hunted for tax resistance which saw him withhold Ksh3 billion from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) every month. There are reports he may have fled to Zambia.

During the raid on his factory on Friday last week, crime busters seized 312,000 litres of illicit alcohol valued at an estimated Ksh 1.2 billion. The detectives also seized 21 million counterfeit excise stamps.

According to KRA Commissioner of Intelligence and Strategic Operations Githii Mburu, the fake stamps would mean that the government lost Ksh1.2 billion in taxes from the distributor annually and a further Ksh Sh200 in tax from every litre of ethanol which Kariuki’s henchmen were smuggling into the country.

The Kenyan police are engaging Zambian authorities seeking to have Kariuki extradited.

Zambia would be required to cooperate with Kenya’s request on account of being an Interpol signatory.

“Why run away when you know you have not done anything wrong? Two people (Kariuki and one of his senior managers) have vanished in thin air. Where have they gone to? This means that they have been engaging in shady dealings… If they haven’t been doing anything wrong, let them present themselves,” posed Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet during the raid.


Business Empire

Kariuki runs Janus Continental Group (JCG), which operates a number of subsidiaries including ASL, which produces Legend Brandy, Blue Moon Vodka and Furaha Gin.

The business mogul also owns Wow beverages, which distributes a number of foreign high end liquor including Versus Wines, Jack Daniels Whisky, Eristoff and Grey Goose Vodkas.

Dalbit Petroleum which landed a Ksh796million contract to fuel United Nations (UN) planes in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in September 2018, also falls under his empire.

Another of his firms is the Great Lakes Africa Energy, a U.K-based company that is a developer and operator of power projects in Southern Africa. In 2017, the then little-known company made headlines when it was awarded a lucrative $400 million power tender in Mozambique.

Other prime properties he owns include the luxurious Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club, the nearby Mt Kenya Wildlife Conservancy and Animal Orphanage and The Hub, Karen.


However, rich Kariuki’s story is, his life is a tale of two halves: When he was struggling and when he joined the billionaires club. Then there is a tinge of controversy.

His first job was at the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) where he worked as a clerk at the age of 19 before he ventured into importing cars when he was 20.

From there, he tried his luck in the alcohol distribution business in his late 20s where he became a household name.

In the hospitality industry, he owned the Green Corner Restaurant at Nairobi’s Tumaini House, behind Kencom House where he humbly served patrons without betraying his riches as well as the nearby upmarket Twigs Restaurant.

Those who frequented the place among them were mainly second liberation crusaders and independent journalists, among them Raila Odinga.

It is at this building that he used to sell top-of-the range limousines and the business was booming.

Kariuki has, however, previously been linked to money laundering. A case in point is an investigation into US$25 million that was wired into the Charter House Bank account of a company called Crucial Properties, which was associated with him, in January 2001.


According to Wikileaks, a probe by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Banking Fraud Unit established that Crucial Properties had been incorporated in Kenya in May 1998 with two directors.

In December 2000, the company opened a foreign currency account at Charter House Bank and then passed a resolution to introduce Kariuki as an additional director. Kariuki was to be the star player in the court cases that followed the report of the money’s receipt by Charter House Bank. Soon after Kariuki became a director, the money was remitted into the account. Questioned about the source of the money, Kariuki claimed that it was transferred from Jersey “for property development and trading within Africa ”.

The court case was to collapse in spectacular fashion after detectives misdirected their probe to New Jersey in the US instead of Jersey Island,a small island in the Englsih Channel that is a British Crown Dependency that was for long favoured by those seeking to hide dirty money. The court threw it out.


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