Lilian Wangui Rukwaro founder Simple Homes
The beauty queen at the centre of the Simple Homes scandal converted to Islam as a disguise, changed names and relocated from Nairobi to Malindi where she is living with the mastermind of the scheme.
The Standard on Sunday can reveal that the last son of independence hero Argwings Kodhek, also known by a similar name, was the mastermind of the scam in which unsuspecting Kenyans lost more than Sh500 million in payments for non-existent houses.
Lilian Wangui, alias Kui Rukwaro or Lee Rukwaro, 27, who was the face of the scam and referred to herself as the owner of the company, is now known as Maryam Wangui. She does not use a mobile phone and doesn’t walk in public without a niqab, a veil covering the head worn by Muslim women when they are not in front of their immediate family members.
The two are living together probably waiting for the heat to die down. They are said to be lovers. Kodhek has been behind two other similar schemes in the past, including one in the UK which led to his deportation, according to a source from the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI).
Wangui, the Murang’a County 2013 Miss Tourism, may have as well turned herself into a ghost, making it difficult for her to be tracked down or arrested. A watchman at her former residence in Ruaka, Kiambu County, said that he has not seen her for two months.
“Huyo msichana wa Bui sijamwona karibu miezi mbili sasa. Hata gari yake. (I haven’t seen the girl who wears veils or her car for two months now),” the guard said.
Kodhek, also known as Sheikh Yasin or General Agwati, is a flamboyant and publicity obsessed person who pays bloggers to write about him. He had two Facebook pages but deleted one which had photos depicting an extravagant lifestyle, after this writer sent him a friend request on Wednesday night.
His second Facebook page has the interior of a Mercedes Benz as the cover photo. One of the comments he made about the photo on January 12 reads: Taking photos. I am a Luo. I like nice things.
Those who have dealt with him say he is a smooth talker who likes dropping names of public figures he ‘knows’ while reminding everyone of his famous family name in every sentence he utters.
Argwings Kodhek Road in Nairobi’s Hurlingham area is named after his father, a former Cabinet minister who died in a road accident on January 29, 1969.
Roll of advocates
He speaks with an improvised Etonian accent which was used as a voice over for all their marketing videos which have since been taken down from YouTube but The Standard on Sunday is in possession of one. In public, he identifies himself as a lawyer although his name does not feature on the roll of advocates maintained by the Law Society of Kenya’s (LSK).
In October, just before he announced he wanted to be a Senator for Mombasa County on a Jubilee ticket, a section of the media described him as residing in a lavish six bedroom residence in Nyali and drives a Mercedes, a Porsche and a Hummer.
Beauty queen who swindled home buyers
So deceptive is Kodhek that he said he had left the company only to resurface to his employees as a Mr Walter Muigai, and he would only talk to them and give them instructions via conference calls.
A recording of a virtual conference meeting with the sales team of Simple Homes in December last year which we have obtained depicts him as a man with a desire to make money through whichever means.
“You all need individually to be making Sh3.5 million by sixth of December and Sh6.5 million by December 19. I need you people to beg, borrow or kill or whatever….that is how this year will end up for you,” he says. The employees respond in the affirmative.
“It’s December so it would be difficult to get clients because people are already on holiday. Convince them to use that money to make a payment for a house. Let’s get the Sh15 million and even go beyond it. It is the festive season do what you have to do.. Make money. Get rich,” he says.
This is the man that Lilian Wangui would meet and together they created one of the biggest and most complicated real estate scam schemes by any standards.
So clinical was the way in which the scam was plotted, rolled out and executed. It had an exit plan designed to leave the hands of its masterminds, who include Wangui’s sister Hellen Wambui, clean before the law and in the court of public opinion.
It appears the plotters wanted the heat to turn to the company’s employees and shareholders, some of whom were duped into buying shares of the company in the first place. Unlike the home buyers who were tricked into making payments for off-plan purchases, shareholders were told they would be receiving dividends from the profits the company made according to the equity they owned.
Among those who bought shares is retired magistrate Joyce Manyasi Muta, who used part of her retirement package to purchase shares in the company.
The investor prospectus which we have seen placed the total valuation of the company at Sh100 million at that time and investors were allowed to buy shares at a minimum of Sh25,000 per share.
“Your purchase of equity gives you shares in Simple Homes Developers Consortium Limited whether one share for Sh25,000 or more. Up to 40 shares for Sh1 million at the same time grants you an option on any property development of your choice once it is advertised by Simple Home for sale off plan,” it said.
In the prospectus, Simple Homes claimed it was “marketing six projects under contract with a total value of Sh1.65 billion and is in discussions with 82 developers in and around Nairobi, 22 in and around Mombasa, six in Kisumu and 24 all around the rest of the country.”
In an email sent to George Gathogo by Lilian Wangui on December 9, 2015, she gave the impression that the company shares were being bought fast and he needs to make a quick decision lest he should miss out.
“We currently have interest from 79 investors each seeking to invest Sh250,000 and up. The number of fresh requests grows by 10 per cent each day,” she said. “Simple Homes will create a financial supermarket bringing together those who wish to invest in property development for a return (who are the key customers), home buyers who wish to buy homes and property developers. Should we reach the investment threshold target, then within 60 days investors should start earning commissions,” she said.
Gathogo, a farmer and a hair dresser who eventually bought into the idea and bought shares worth Sh25,000, had met Wangui a year earlier in Ruaka and they became friends. He says there was nothing that could raise suspicion about the scheme.
“At that time, she was doing interior design in town and I would meet her every morning on her way to work. At one point, she told me she had got a mentor known as Agwingi, who she described as a nice guy who was helping her come up with some business idea,” he recalls. “Later, she told me I should invest in the idea because ‘you must join this because those who have invested are big shots and you will make contacts.’”
As it turns out, Kodhek and his team of cons did not even have a company in the first place but were searching for seed money and many people fell for the idea.
A subscription analysis from the company’s first annual general meeting held at Daykio Apartments near Yaya Centre, Nairobi, on December 16, 2015 shows it made Sh7,375,000 from 18 people who bought the shares.
Some of the shareholders who have spoken to The Standard on Sunday say the company started playing musical chairs with them about their role or how they would benefit shortly after they put pen to paper. “The shareholding came with privileges that an ordinary buyer would not have received. And remember this was not private information as it was shared in their publicity campaigns,” says Charles Ochieng.
“I shared with my sisters and my mother and we bought five shares. As I am handling this, we are in panic mode because my mum does not even know the information that is out there,” he says.
Charles George Ochieng and his three relatives five shares at Sh25,000 each. They joined nine others whose details we shared last week to be the shareholders of the company by early 2016. For long, the company refused to give them any confirmation about their shareholding. This is evident from a flurry of messages between Ochieng and Wangui.
“I have been meaning to ask you what happened to our documentations. We have been wondering, aren’t we supposed to receive some evidence of sorts with regards to shareholding at Simple Homes?” he wrote to Wangui on August 16 last year. She responded: “Let’s communicate with the office that handles these documents to provide them. The CR12 is provided by the Registrar of Companies to show the shareholders of any company.”
But unknown to them was that they were just shareholders of a Sacco, not the real owners of the company. Kodhek and his cohorts had registered another company, Simple Homes Developers Consortium Limited (SHDCL) and we have the list of directors of this other firm from the Registrar of Companies.
“The nominal share capital of the company is Sh100,000 divided into 1000 shares of Sh10 each. The company was registered on January 15, 2016 at 1:37 pm. The registered office of the company is situated at LR NO 209/3B Gill House Tom Mboya Street Nairobi, PO BOX 652 – 00506 Nairobi,” reads the shareholding records at the Registrar of Companies.
The Online Commodity Exchange Company Limited listed as a director owns 8,419 shares, Lilian Wangui Rukwaro also listed as a director owns 400 shares while Hellen Wambui Rukwaro (Wangui’s older sister whom she was living with in Ruaka) owns 400 shares. Morris Mwangi Gitau owns 20 shares, Janet Kanana Kibiti who the Registrar of Companies says lives in Peabody, Massachusettes in the US, owns 10 shares, Apex Advancement (300 shares), Joyce Manyasia Muta (a retired magistrate owns 231 shares), George Gathogo (20 shares) and Nancy Wothaya Konyago (200 shares).
Konyago is an advocate. Records at the Law Society of Kenya’s (LSK) website (which have since been taken down but were present when we began this investigation) show she last worked for the Federation of Women Lawyers, Kenya (FIDA).
The Online Commodity Exchange Company (TOCE) Limited, we have established, is owned by Kodhek. Its website was taken down sometime in 2015 but from an email from Wangui to one of the prospective shareholders explaining why it was deleted, indicates it might have been another scam.
“The site ‘www.theonelinecommodityexchange.co.ke’ was taken down for an upgrade. It was not providing its core functions as expected due to a poor design and therefore 90 per cent of orders where being placed directly by phone, text or Whatsapp,” she explains in the email sent on December 9, 2015.
“With farmers calling in their supplies which has proved a taxing and inefficient way to trade Sh2,000,000 worth of farm produce a day. The improvements to the site which include inter-phase through a USSD line, should be up and working by December 17 2015 at the latest,” she says in the mail.
Information on Docslide.com, an online information exchange platform, says TOCE is a farmer-owned company that helps them link up with consumers.
“The Online Commodity Exchange (TOCE) Limited is a farmer-owned company that was incorporated after a year consultations between some 700 farmers under the banner of The Farm Produce Marketing Initiative Kenya (FPMI-K) crystallising into concrete steps in the last six months to create a commercial entity that will eventually list on the Nairobi Stock Exchange,” it says.
Its website is yet to be reinstated as promised by Wangui to a prospective shareholder in December 2015, raising fears that just like Simple Homes, it disappeared — leaving victims in its wake.