Uchumi in ownership tussle with Kenya Airports Authority over Lang’ata Hyper land

By: JAMES KARIUKI

Uchumi Supermarkets has come out fighting over its multi-billion Lang’ata Hyper property saying it held a valid title deed to it.

Company Secretary Mr John Wambugu said that they had owned the property for the past 19 years, having purchased the land and put up a multi-billion supermarket operation.

“The Kenya Airports Authority warning blocking the intended disposal of the property has caused us concern.

“It bars interested buyers from leasing or buying the property but we wish to affirm that we own the property,” he said.

The supermarket chain with branches in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania added that all buyers would be at liberty to scrutinise all ownership papers before entering into a binding agreement with Uchumi managers.

“Uchumi has enjoyed full use of the property for the past 19 years and has developed the property that it later used to secure financing from various financial institutions,’ it said in a statement.

Uchumi Supermarkets had sought a buyer for the property to help it raise funds to refinance its operations and ease debts to suppliers.

But KAA also lodged a claim over the prime property saying the land on which the supermarket is built belongs to them.

“It has come to the attention of Kenya Airports Authority that Uchumi Supermarkets, who purport to own the land, is trying to sell, lease or deal in one way or another with the parcel of land.

“Any person entering into any agreement or arrangement, whether for sale, lease or otherwise with any person other than KAA does so at his own peril,” said a notice by KAA published in local dailies.

MOVE TO COURT

KAA said it would move to court to protect its property if Uchumi goes ahead with the intended sale.

But Mr Wambugu castigated KAA’s statement saying the parcel was private property that had been legally purchased by Uchumi which proceeded to acquire the title.

“We have also contacted the National Land Commission who have confirmed in writing that the parcel of land belongs to Uchumi Supermarkets,” said Mr Wambugu.

Uchumi Chief Executive Officer Julius Kipng’etich moved to reduce staff and close down non-performing branches to reduce debt and the wage burden.

He also proceeded to target the sale of two branches to raise fresh capital for operations.

The retailer last month announced closure of its operations in Tanzania and Uganda in a drastic reorganisation it said is intended to stop financial bleeding.

The turnaround plan, said Dr Kipng’etich, could also succeed if it sought financing from within thereby reducing debts as well as the wage bill.

This move by the CEO was received well by financial experts who described it as prudent and strategic move to ease debt where it would dispose the properties and lease them from the new owners.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION