October 1, 2023


Booking Travel

I was offered Dubai trip to discuss Sh1bn Salama Beach Hotel case, says Judge Stephen Githinji

Malindi Presiding Judge Stephen Githinji has recused himself from a dispute over the ownership of a Sh1 billion luxurious hotel in Kilifi County.

This decision comes after Italian investor Steffano Uccelli lodged a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) regarding his conduct in the matter involving Salama Beach Hotel.

Justice Githinji stated that he believed it would be unfair for him to continue presiding over the case, considering that he may have deliberations with Mr Uccelli before the JSC.

“Given the circumstances, any decisions I make in this matter might be perceived as biased. Therefore, I recuse myself from this case and all related matters,” said the judge during a court session.

The judge directed that the file be placed before the principal judge in Nairobi for further instructions.

Mr Uccelli requested that the judge recuse himself for allegedly violating his oath, gross misconduct, and misbehaviour.

“As a result, I have lost faith and trust in the judge. I am reasonably apprehensive that the judge will be partial and biased while handling this matter, thus denying the hotel and its lawful shareholders their constitutional right to a fair hearing,” said Mr Uccelli.

The Italian further expressed his concern about an alleged appearance of bias by the judge, which he claimed had hindered delivery of justice and his proprietary rights over the hotel.

Businessmen Isaac Rodrot (left) and his Italian counterpart Stefano Uccelli during a past event. They were released from police custody on bond. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Justice Githinji was transferred to Malindi in 2021 and subsequently appointed to preside over the bench of three dealing with the consolidated petition and all High Court cases related to the hotel.

Mr Uccelli’s application and petition came after he was informed by his Kenyan counterpart, Isaack Rodrot, about a meeting outside the court where the case was allegedly discussed.

He complained that the judge had issued adverse orders against him and had also discussed his case outside the court in a sports pub in Malindi town.

Justice Githinji briefly addressed the claim, noting that the incidents happened when he was fairly new in Malindi. He said Rodrot attempted to approach him in a hotel.

According to the judge, he was with his friend at Mabeshte Sports Pub when three gentlemen, including Mr Rodrot, approached them.

“They greeted us, and Rodrot introduced himself to me. He mentioned that he had a matter in court before me and sought my audience. I immediately told him that if that was the case, he should not be there with me,” said the judge.

According to the judge, the Kenyan suggested that he could arrange a trip to Dubai for discussions.

“I became annoyed and told them that their conduct was wrong, unacceptable, and that they should present their issues in court. I made it clear that I do not engage in such discussions. We were about to leave and they noticed and left us. We did not deliberate on any matters,” said the judge.

The judge clarified in his ruling that any decisions he had made regarding the duo had been based on the facts presented before him and the law.

“As a seasoned judicial officer, I believed that I had addressed the issue promptly and adequately. I never felt the need to take it further. As expected, I never heard from or saw them again,” said the judge.

The judge concluded that neither holds a grudge against the Italian and the Kenyan, nor does he have any personal interest in them. His only concern, he said, is to ensure justice is served in these matters.

“Uccelli and Rodrot would prefer their cases to be heard by a judicial officer whom they can reach and influence, and since they have noticed that I am not that type, they want me removed from their cases,” said the judge.

Mr Uccelli and Mr Rodrot have been charged with several criminal offenses related to their takeover of the hotel from German billionaire Jurgen Hans Langer and his wife Zahra Langer.

However, they have filed a petition seeking to halt their prosecution for alleged unlawful acquisition of the billion-shilling hotel.

In their petition, Mr Rodrot and Mr Uccelli maintain that they possess valid court judgments in their favour regarding the ownership and shareholding of the hotel.

They claim that the allegations of forgery, which are the subject of the criminal proceedings before a magistrate court in Mombasa, as well as the involvement of police and the director of pubic prosecutions in charging them, are a covert attempt to disenfranchise them.

Through their advocate Joseph Munyithya, the petitioners state that they are aggrieved by the entire process of criminal investigation, institution, and prosecution of the case, and want a permanent cessation of it.

They allege that their arrest and subsequent appearance in court were conducted in violation of their constitutional rights, and were designed to reopen the issue of hotel ownership which they contend had already been settled.