Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal has sold his stake in the troubled Fairmont The Norfolk and Fairmont Mara Safari Club to Nepalese tycoon for Ksh2,8 billion.
On Friday, Business Daily reported that the transaction was completed before the global spread of the Novel Coronavirus.
The reports come after the hotel group reversed its decision to sack all its employees on Thursday following intervention from the Attorney General’s office.
The hotel group had announced the unanticipated decision to sack all staff working in the two establishments last week including those employed at the iconic Norfolk, a move which attracted a quick response from Solicitor General Kennedy Ogeto.
Ogeto sought to find out the grounds on which the company had resorted to laying of its employees in mass and wanted a clarification from the hotel’s management.
Reports now indicate that Prince Al-Waleed, through his investment vehicle, Kingdom Holding, sold his stake to the Chaudhary Group (CG).
The prince has been shuffling his portfolio months after being detained in Saudi Arabia’s sweeping crackdown on corruption.
A transaction advisor who participated in the Fairmont deal told the Business Daily the Norfolk and Mara Safari Club cost the Nepalese tycoon Sh2.8 billion.
“Prince Alwaleed is no longer in the game after surrendering the ownership of remaining hotel business in Kenya and his investment group is focusing somewhere else,” The Business Daily reported. “The transaction has been closed and now the Nepalese owners are embarking on a full 100 percent renovation that will go for a whole one year.”
Chaudhary Group, which is associated with Binod Chaudhary, a billionaire Nepalese lawmaker, has already listed the two hotels among its string of high-end hospitality investments spread in Asia and the Middle East.
It says the deal will give it an additional 170 guest rooms and suites, 51 luxury tents and about 10 food and beverage outlets.
The acquisition of the iconic Nairobi hotel and the Mara tented facility will be the second deal in the region for the Kathmandu-based multinational which also owns Le Relax Hotel in Seychelles.
Chaudhary Group’s portfolio ranges from banking, education, energy, telecommunication and pharmaceuticals with operations in five continents. The Group Chairman and President, Binod, is estimated to be worth $1.4 billion (Sh148.5 billion).
Kingdom Hotel Investments forked out Sh6 billion in 2005 to acquire and upgrade the Lonrho properties.
They included the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, the Mount Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki, the Aberdare Country Club, the Ark and the Mara Safari Club.
The acquisition was hailed as one of the largest in East Africa at the time. But Prince Alweed has taken a strategic decision to divest from hotels, selling Four Seasons Damascus in Syria and Four Seasons Beirut in Lebanon.
The sales come two years after the prince, who is a grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia, became one the high-ranking Saudi officials arrested in what authorities there said was an anti-corruption crackdown.
Now in his 60s, the flamboyant prince is a keen investor in high-end luxury hotel chains. He has in the past 30 years built up a fortune worth $20.4 billion (about Ksh2.1 trillion), according to Bloomberg.
Prince Al-Waleed also has major stakes in News Corp, Citigroup and Twitter. He co-owned the Four Seasons hotel chain along with American billionaire Bill Gates and is the owner of London’s landmark luxury hotel, The Savoy.
His other hotel investments include the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York.
Kingdom Holdings had earlier ceded control of the 5-star Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club to elusive businessman, Humphrey Kariuki, who is currently fighting a Sh41 billion tax evasion suit.
CG Hospitality has embarked on major renovations and upgrades of the Norfolk hotel and Maasai Mara property, which was partly damaged by recent floods after the Mara River broke its banks.
The takeover of the Kenyan hotels has come at a time when the hospitality sector has taken a beating from the cessation of movement into, from and within the country as a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The new owners- Nepalese group -is also fighting an employee revolt after its workers rejected an offer to remain on unpaid leave during the coronavirus period and demanded to be retained on 50 percent pay.