The children of former Attorney-General (AG) James Karugu have moved to court seeking to bar two women from claiming their father’s wealth, in a case that could radically alter family and property law in Kenya.
Ms Victoria Nyambura, Mr Eric Mwaura and Ms Rose Gathira have filed a petition at the Family Division of the High Court on behalf of their elderly father accusing the two women, Lucy Muthoni and Hellen Wambui Mwaura, of violating the former AG’s constitutional rights and falsely claiming to be his wives.
Mr Karugu resigned as the AG on the morning of June 2, 1981 — 15 months into the job — and retreated to a quiet life in his Kiamara farm in Kiambu to focus on coffee farming.
He was an influential figure in Kenya’s post-independence legal circles, especially in the Jomo Kenyatta administration and after President Daniel Moi took over power in August 1978.
Before he became the AG, succeeding Mr Charles Njonjo, Mr Karugu was the deputy public prosecutor, until April 1980. Mr Njonjo had resigned to join politics and was elected the Kikuyu MP.
He has never discussed the reasons for his resignation. In an interview with the Nation in 2017 he said: “Let us put it this way — there were frustrations and issues that I could not push forward.”
The court case has now turned the spotlight on Mr Karugu, with his children accusing the two women of attempting to take over their father’s property yet he is alive and has never been married to them.
They say in the suit documents that their father was only married to their mother Margaret Waithera Karugu, who died in 2007.
They also assert that their father was diagnosed with progressive dementia in 2015 rendering him incapable of running his affairs.
Subsequently, Ms Nyambura and her siblings sought the intervention of the high court under Section 26 of the Mental Health Act upon which the court appointed them the managers and guardians of their father and his estate.
Mr Karugu is listed as the petitioner in the case filed on January 23, with his children suing as guardians of their father in this case known legally as “the ward”.
The former AG’s children also accuse the respondents— Ms Muthoni and Ms Mwaura — of having ulterior motives, saying the two women are only pursuing companies owned by Mr Karugu by claiming to be his wives.
The petitioners now want the court to uphold their father’s constitutional rights under Articles 27 and 28.
Article 27 decrees that a person shall not be discriminated against on account of his health status, age or disability.
They say their father is “in general good health and it is a violation of his rights to proceed as if he was dead.”
The petitioners are seeking a declaration that the two women were never married to Mr Karugu and that there is no presumption of marriage out of cohabitation.
They also say that although Mr Karugu has occasionally paid school fees for Ms Muthoni’s children studying abroad, assuming such parental responsibilities do not confer marital status on their relationship.
“Any allegations that ‘the Ward’ assumed parental responsibility of the respondents’ children has no bearing on their status as wives,” the petitioners state in the court papers.
They also want the two women barred from claiming to be Mr Karugu’s wives and to pay damages for violating his constitutional rights.
The case brings a new twist to the thorny issue of property inheritance, considering that such disputes often arise where a wealthy person has died and persons claiming to be spouses or children emerge to claim a share of the estate.
Other cases involve women known as gold diggers or “slay queens”— in now popular slang — seeking to acquire wealth by siring children with rich men.
Ms Mwaura had sought from the court for full statement of account of nine companies including Kariama enterprises, Centurion holdings, Mathara Holdings and Malewa Bay investments.
“It is clear that the intention of the respondents in alleging that they are wives of ‘the Ward’ is to pursue companies in which ‘the Ward’ has investments,” the petition reads.
The children allege that their father had no capacity to marry from August 12, 1971 to September 7, 2007 as a monogamous marriage was in place and any marriages during the period is void.