In a private deal worth billions of shillings, the family of the late former prominent Cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott sold the renowned Yaya Centre shopping complex in Nairobi to a group of investors.
Yaya Centre, located in Kilimani, is one of Kenya’s oldest luxury retail malls and has long been connected with Mr Biwott, the late millionaire politician and businessman who was a close ally of former President Daniel Moi.
Mr. Biwott died in July 2017 after a protracted illness, leaving behind outstanding real estate in the United States and internationally.
The rich Rasik Kantaria family is among the new owners of Yaya Centre, expanding their hotel investment.
“Commercial details of the purchase are bound by confidentiality agreements,” the Yaya Centre property manager Edna Fernandes said in response to the Sunday Nation’s queries.
The private transaction saw the Kantaria consortium take over both the Yaya Centre shopping mall as well as the high-end Yaya Apartments and Hotel.
Sources familiar with the transaction as well as publicly available information indicate the Yaya Centre transaction was valued at billions of shillings, even though parties in the deal remained tight-lipped on the amount.
In 1997, the High Court granted H.Z. Engineering and Construction Company, owned by Mr Biwott, ownership of the Yaya Centre after a court battle in which the company sought possession of the shopping complex from the Central Bank of Kenya’s Deposit Protection Fund Board.
The court case, which at the time valued Yaya Centre at Sh3 billion, emanated from the collapse of Trade Bank, which was also associated with Mr Biwott.
A source familiar with the deal, but who spoke in confidence, told the Sunday Nation: “The transaction was valued not just on the basis of the land but on the worth of the running business which has recorded a high occupancy rate for many years and is therefore priced at a premium, certainly in the billions of shillings.”
Ms Fernandes says Yaya Centre’s occupancy has held constant at about 95 per cent, indicating that its business proposition of proximity to Nairobi’s central business district holds sway over the average economic performance.
The Kenyan shopping malls market has relatively few and far between takeover transactions, which makes it difficult to estimate the comparative value of the buyout.
Yaya Centre is among pioneer shopping complexes in Nairobi, only comparable in longevity and prime location to the Sarit Centre and The Mall in Wetlands.
Its sale marks a significant wealth distribution to the Biwott family heirs, who in 2020 also liquidated the former minister’s shareholding in oil marketing company KenolKobil to French multinational Rubis, in yet another multi-billion-shilling transaction.
The Biwott estate, through Wells Petroleum Holdings Limited, earned Sh8.4 billion from sale of their 24.99 per cent shares in KenolKobil.
The Kantarias, headed by family patriarch Rasik Kantaria, are best known for their ownership of Prime Bank that mostly serves a loyal niche of medium-sized to large enterprises.