Gossip

Exposed: SportPesa Sponsoring Ruto 2022

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Keen observers will have noticed that William Ruto is spending millions of shillings every day in his campaigns for presidency next year despite a foreign travel ban slapped on him by Uhuru Kenyatta to starve him of funds. In August, Ruto was stopped from flying to Uganda in what was viewed as a state-backed scheme to halt his campaigns. After he was stopped from leaving the country, a bitter Ruto said in a cryptic tweet “it’s alright, let’s leave it to God”. It later emerged that State House had directed senior government officials not to allow Ruto to travel out of the country without written permission from Uhuru. The new orders were issued soon after Ruto returned from a trip from Zanzibar where he had reportedly gone to raise campaign funds. But despite the ban, insiders in Ruto’s camp revealed the second in command is spending an average of Sh15 million daily in his campaign forays across the country. For the month of October, Ruto addressed 187 rallies in different counties meaning he spent a whopping Sh2.8 billion in one month alone. The Sh15 million spent daily covers logistics, mobilisation, allowances, transport and media, among other roles. Insiders in his camp revealed that Ruto has roped in international firms and tycoons to bankroll his campaigns and in return will award them lucrative tenders once he wins the presidency.

Ronald KarauriThere are also local business people who are secretly backing him to buy patronage in case he wins. Contrary to assumptions that Mt Kenya elite are not backing Ruto, it is emerging that some are also funding him moreso those who do not have old money and so are not held at high esteem by the Mt Kenya Foundation elderly lot. Being aware that a presidential race is a multi-billionaire affair and he is among the front-runners, Ruto has moved to attract well-oiled individuals and firms to bankroll him. Indeed, it is a standard practice all over the world for top presidential candidates to be bankrolled by rich individuals, multinationals and local investors in return for tax reliefs and other incentives.
Top on the list of firms and individuals financing Ruto is a clique that comprises shareholders of the local betting firm, SportPesa, which has had very poor relations with the Uhuru administration and is looking forward to the day the former Gatundu South MP will retire. Leading this clique is SportPesa chief executive officer Ronald Karauri who has reportedly struck a deal with Ruto that once the second in command wins the presidency, he will ensure SportPesa resumes full operations in Kenya. Kenya was one of SportsPesa’s lucrative hunting ground until Uhuru started frustrating the investment. They see Ruto presidency as an ideal chance to return to operations. 

Jimmy WanjigiKarauri who has fallen out with other SportPesa local investors is reportedly sending agents locally and internationally to withdraw millions of shillings from its numerous accounts for onward transmission to the deputy president.
The money is being withdrawn either in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda and taken to Ruto’s Karen residence. Remember SportPesa is online and so even people in Kenya bet through it are paid for their wins making nonsense the government’s ban of it. Sources say, those close to Ruto bet and computer systems are corrupted to create impression they have hit jackpots and then paid to fund Ruto campaigns without raising eyebrows. Karauri has struck a deal with Ruto that once he wins the presidency he will not only facilitate SportPesa’s comeback but will also cancel the tax demands by the Kenya Revenue Authority amounting to billions of shillings. The CEO is among betting firms’ officials eagerly waiting for Uhuru’s second term to come to an end hoping once Ruto takes over the government, he will review the punitive taxes imposed by the former Gatundu South MP’s government. There are also reports Karauri is funding controversial businessman Jimi Richard Wanjigi with the hope the shady businessman will destabilise the Orange party and thus slow down Raila Odinga’s campaigns for presidency.

Kalonzo Musyoka Raila is being backed by Uhuru for presidency with the understanding he will take care of Kenyatta family’s business interests. Indeed, keen political observers will have noticed the language Ruto and Wanjigi are using is similar and both are bitter with Uhuru and Raila. Insiders added that Wanjigi has been tasked by Karauri with reaching out to other top presidential aspirants Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula to hammer a truce with them to back Ruto instead of Raila. Wanjigi, a known broker, is being positioned as a key player in Uhuru succession by Meru-born Karauri who will become a kingmaker. Wanjigi once he bolts out of ODM on grounds of being frustrated by ODM in his fight for the ODM presidential ticket with Raila, will dangle compensations running into billions of shillings for Mudavadi, Wetangula and Kalonzo to back Ruto presidency. The billions will be paid by SportPesa. The sources added, to actualise the plan to fund Ruto unhindered, Karauri started by kicking out other wealthy and influential SportPesa investors to give him total control of the lucrative firm. After kicking them out, Karauri’s first move was to secretly transfer Sh29.1 billion from the company’s coffers to overseas accounts and sale of shares in the firm’s holding company. 

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Musalia MudavadiPart of this money is now being used to fund Ruto and also Wanjigi, the latter now using it to open parallel ODM offices across the country. Karauri has also brought on board friendly personalities in leading media houses to back Ruto presidential bid. The media houses are salivating for SportPesa’s mouthwatering advertisement budget for print and electronic media and do not want to be left out. Karauri, insiders added, started by frustrating two local business people considered friendly to Uhuru; Paul Wanderi Ndung’u and Asenath Wacera Maina, the latter being the widow of former Nairobi mayor Dick Wathika. The two combined held a stake of 38pc in the betting firm. In the plot to kick them out, Karauri clandestinely struck a controversial deal with another firm identified as Milestone. In the deal, Ndung’u and Maina though being top shareholders of Pevans East Africa which is behind SportPesa in Kenya were excluded from buying shares in the holding company – SportPesa Global Holding Limited (SGHL) – leading to dilution of their ownership in the UK-based firm. The two lost a combined Sh1.1 billion from the dilution of their stakes in SportPesa. The two were irked by their fellow shareholders over management and cash transfers in SPGHL and Pevans East Africa which previously ran the sports betting business in Kenya.

Moses Wetang’ula With the deal, Karauri now has full control of SPGHL which owns SportPesa subsidiaries operating in Italy, Tanzania, South Africa and Russia, and thus has at his finger on billions of shillings to fund Ruto and Wanjigi. To neutralise the two local directors, Karauri engineered a series of corporate maneuvers that brought back the popular SportPesa gaming brand under a new company – Milestone Games Limited which he controls with a 54.4pc stake. Insiders added that Karauri in his bid to take total control of SportPesa also roped in foreign owners led by Bulgarians who owned 80pc of SGHL with a 47pc interest in Pevans. As Karauri was aligning himself with the firm’s foreign investors to run the sports betting platform, he was not consulting the board and thus the local directors did not know what was happening. His secret moves saw Maina, a shareholder with a 21pc stake in Pevans, demand a forensic audit on the company starting from 2015 but Karauri resisted. Insiders added that Karauri has set aside over Sh27.1 billion held in various offshore accounts in Isle of Man, Dubai and Las Palmas/Canary Islands to bankroll Ruto’s campaigns. Other accounts the money is being transferred to later be channeled to Ruto’s campaigns are in South Africa and Tanzania, the latter holding over Sh1.9 billion. 

Paul Ndung’uInsiders added that the three foreign investors working with Karauri are Bulgarian Guerassim Nikolov of the ill-fated Toto 6/49 lottery, Valentina Nikolaeva Mineva and Ivan Kalpakchiev. They have reportedly held secret meetings with the deputy president where the second in command has assured them they will not only be back in business once he wins the presidency but also that he will frustrate other betting firms to ensure SportPesa remains the dominant player in the market. Karauri who owns a 6pc stake in Pevans East Africa is reportedly planning to push out all the local directors so that he can have over 60pc shareholding once Ruto wins the presidency. Insiders added that another foreign investor in Pevans also working with Karauri is American Gene Grand who has a 21pc equity. The American is reportedly ready to dispose off his shares and top on the list of buyers is Ruto who plans to venture into the lucrative industry once he wins the presidency. Besides Ndung’u and Maina, Karauri has also sidelined Peter Kihanya Muiruri, a cousin of Uhuru, in the operations of the betting firm. Kihanya has a 1pc stake in the company and was the front the Kenyatta family was using to try to take control of the betting firm before their moves were frustrated by Karauri.

Guerassim Nikolov The Kenyatta family, reliable sources revealed, had wanted to buy the SportPesa but Karauri stonewalled them. It was after the Kenyatta family’s bid to acquire a controlling stake at SportPesa failed last year that Pevans East Africa was blocked from operating in Kenya due to a tax row. Having got wind of Ruto’s plans at SportPesa, the government moved fast to cripple his funding by ordering the deportation of 17 foreign directors of betting firms operating in Kenya, with the main target being SportPesa. A week after the directive Interior cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i ordered Safaricom to stop processing payments for sports betting firms. This was followed by the Betting Control and Licensing Board blockage of the Milestone deal, saying the trade name was owned by Pevans East Africa. The regulator accused Milestone of seeking to return SportPesa to business, arguing that the trade name was not transferrable pending the conclusion of a suit that would determine which between Pevans and SGHL has rights to the trade name. Milestone had indicated to the regulator that it had been authorised to use the SportPesa trademark by SGHL. 

Fred Matiang’iInsiders revealed that Matiang’i was working at the behest of the Kenyatta family to frustrate SportPesa with a view to halting Ruto’s funding and also with an eye to take over the brand and platforms that have over 12 million customers in the database. It was when it was established that a cousin of the president had quietly accumulated a financial stake in SportPesa’s controversial gambling empire that Kenyans started questioning Uhuru’s decision on betting firms. The president’s cousin, Kihanya, had in a record 14 months acquired stakes in three companies which are part in Sportpesa’s international gambling empire. At the time of his acquisition, SportPesa was the shirt sponsor of English Premier League side, Everton FC. But the deal has since been cancelled. Sources said after Karauri blocked the Kenyattas from acquiring a huge stake, the government in retaliation introduced taxes on bets placed by punters, and aggressively pursued gambling firms for payment, prompting a number of leading gambling firms to close their operations in Kenya.


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