Court of Appeal dismisses application to review a ruling that found KTDA directors guilty of contempt of court

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Court of Appeal judges Fatuma Sichale, William Ouko and James Otieno-Odek. PHOTO/JAMES KAMETA

By OUR CORRESPONDENT

An application by six directors of the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to have the Court of Appeal review a decision citing them for contempt of court has been dismissed.

The six who were found guilty for disobeying an order of the Court of Appeal issued on December 6, 2017 include KTDA Chief Executive Offcer (CEO), Mr Lerionka Tiampati, and Messrs Stephen Maina Githiga, Mr Eston Gakunju Gikoreh, Mr Peter Kinyua, Mr Francis Macharia (KTDA director) and Dr John Omanga KTDA company secretary.

The six applicants had said they were condemned unheard. Through their lawyers Benson Millimo and Waweru Gatonye said the application upon which they were found guilty had been struck out by the court earlier.

The Court of Appeal judges William Ouko, Fatuma Sichale and James Otieno-Odek said the consolidated notice of motion dated February 2019 had no merit and dismissed it with costs.

“The applicants have not demonstrated that there is new and fresh evidence or points of law that would warrant rescission of the impugned ruling of this court dated February 22, 2019. The applicants in this matter have not demonstrated to our satisfaction the need to review or rescind the ruling of this court delivered on February 22, 2019,” the judges ruled.

They added that the parties have taken deliberate steps to file application upon application in the matter whose practical consequence is to delay, derail and or scuttle substantive determination and conclusion of the contempt proceedings.

“This court will not entertain manifold applications that delay substantive hearing of cases and applications on merit,” the judges added.

The judges also set April 4, 2019 as the new date for mitigation and sentencing of the six applicants after they failed to appear in court.

The directors of Kiru Tea Factory through lawyers Paul Muite had told the court that the six were fully heard and a decision delivered.

The six were among 14 people cited for contempt of court by Kiru Tea Factory Ltd. The court ruled that it did not find the other eight respondents guilty of contempt of court.

They included KTDA chairman Peter Kanyago, directors Philip Ngetich, Joseph Wakimani, Erastus Gakuya, Benson Ngari, Alfred Njagi, Arthur Rimberia and J. Kipngetich.

“Upon our evaluation of the affidavit evidence on record, we find nothing to suggest that the following eight respondents did anything in violation of the court order issued on 6Th December 2017,” the court ruled.

The judges added: “The final order of this Court is that we find the six above guilty of contempt of court for disobeying the status quo order issued by this  Court on 6ThDecember 2017.”

Lawyer Paul Muite for directors of Kiru Tea Factory Ltd. PHOTO/JAMES KAMETA

The directors and the other respondents had been accused allegedly meddling in the leadership and management of the 8,000-member Kiru Tea Factory in Muranga County.

The contempt proceedings, were initiated by Geoffrey Kirundi and his allies who are facing rebellion from a rival camp supporting suspended director Stephen Githiga, following a protracted leadership crisis.

During the hearing of the contempt of court application, Senior Counsel Paul Muite, assisted by lawyer Marete Githinji, asked the bench to impose fines and jail-terms to each of the 14 directors for flouting an injunction issued by the court prohibiting them from holding an Annual General Meeting (AGM) on December 14 2017 to approve the giant tea processor’s board changes.

However, lawyers Njoroge Regeru and Waweru Gatonye, representing the Githiga group claimed no elections were held to replace the aggrieved directors.

Kirundi, Kiragu, Vice-Chairman John Ngari Kariri and auditor Christopher Mwangi have accused their rivals of trying to paralyse the operations of the firm at the behest of powerful individuals who are seeking to control the tea industry in the region.

The Githiga group has insisted on being the legitimate directors in control of the factory’s affairs.

The Court of Appeal had observed that KTDA-HC and KTDA-MS appeared intent on the nomination of Omanga to replace Kimani and the rivalry between the warring parties was likely to cause considerable harm to the farming community. Omanga was reportedly removed on September 11, last year and replaced by Kiragu.

High Court Judge Msagha-Mbogholi had affirmed Githiga’s suspension on April 28, 2017, on grounds that he had not exhausted the legal disciplinary machinery provided by law. He was reportedly sacked because of conflict of interest arising from his appointment to head a private large-scale team firm in January last year.

Mr Chege Kirundi one of the Kiru Tea Factory Ltd directors leaving the court. PHOTO/JAMES KAMETA

Mr Kirundi and his allies, who are facing rebellion from Mr Githiga’s group, had secured an injunction blocking the KTDA Holdings Ltd and KTDA Management Services Ltd from interfering with the leadership of the factory.

While issuing the orders then, the judges noted that the Kiru directors were involved in a war of attrition, with each side trying to ensure that its candidate holds sway as the company secretary.

Shareholders opposed Mr Githiga’s stay at the firm, arguing that his position at the factory became invalid after Sasini hired him as group managing director in January last year, adding that he could not sit on boards of two firms that deal in tea.

Mr Githiga was in February ousted following an extraordinary meeting, which the KTDA declared unprocedural.

The High Court in December rejected Mr Githiga’s plea to stop Kiru from axing him and ruled that the disputes be settled in the boardroom, setting the stage for his ejection.

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