SPORTS POLITICS

Victimising SportPesa sets dangerous precedent for other investors

It is critical that due process and the rule of law be strictly adhered to in all disputes.

In Summary

• A clear pattern is emerging whereby every deliberate effort seems to be focused on ensuring the brand does not operate in Kenya.

• This trend, unfortunately, if not nipped in the bud, portends a gloomy and fraught future for other private businesses.

SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri.
BOSS: SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri.
Image: FILE

For anyone following the politics in the gaming industry in Kenya, or the latest corporate news in the dailies, a glaring news item is about the trials and tribulations of SportPesa.

A clear pattern is emerging, whereby every deliberate effort seems to be focused on ensuring that the brand does not operate in Kenya.

This trend, unfortunately, if not nipped in the bud, portends a gloomy and fraught future for other private businesses where your success becomes your downfall.

It is not a secret that SportPesa’s afflictions started with nasty boardroom wrangles that are now playing out in the public gallery and corridors of justice.

There's a war that has seen a predominantly one-sided narrative being sustained through some news channel outlets and government agencies.

What is, however, more disheartening about this internal falling out is how third parties — who are meant to be independent and neutral — are now blatantly partaking in the squabble. An all-out smear campaign against the company and its shareholders is now evident.

In 2019 and as recently last week, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i made frivolous allegations against some of the directors of gaming companies in Kenya.

These included money laundering, tax evasion and unspecified criminal activities.

These are allegations that eventually led to the deportation of the ‘foreign’ investors, despite the fact that CS Matiang’I is yet to provide evidence to the general public to support the government's actions.

If there was any wrongdoing by the companies, or by the individuals, shouldn’t there have been legal action based on facts and real evidence?

Many companies in Kenya, especially in the sports betting sector, have tax disputes with the Kenya Revenue Authority yet you don’t hear of their licences being withdrawn or suspended. Nor do they get summonses from the Betting Control and Licensing Board.

In recent history, large companies in retail and manufacturing sectors such as Nakumatt and Keroche Breweries had tax disputes with KRA.

But ultimately, due process through the tax tribunal and court procedures led to resolutions without forcefully shutting down the businesses.

The latest theatre of absurdity has been BCLB’s pretentiousness about its mandate and jurisdiction whereby the chairman attempts to control what trading names licensed companies can use.

Despite court rulings and injunctions issued by Justice Pauline Nyamweya on November 16 and December 3, the BCLB chairman and the board went ahead to once again cancel SportPesa’s license.

These acts of impunity and double standards hint at an orchestrated scheme targeting a particular player.

Since 2017, there have been speculation and rumours that some local shareholders have been scheming on how to wrestle SportPesa from the hands of 'non-locals'.

Going by the unfolding events, one can’t help but deduce an element of truth in this narrative.

Regardless of whether you support gaming companies, partake in gambling or not, the operators are legal entities just like any other and deserve equal protection from the regulator, KRA and the justice system.

It is critical that due process and the rule of law be strictly adhered to in all disputes.

Their absence sets the course for the slippery slope while confirming banana republic status as all investors flee to other destinations.

John Rock Munai is a media commentator