Victimisation of Sportpesa sets bad precedent

Monday, December 7th, 2020 00:00 |
SportPesa chief executive Ronald Karauri. Photo/PD/FILE


For anyone following the gaming industry in Kenya, or latest corporate news in the dailies, a glaring news item seems to portray the trials and tribulations of Sportpesa, a betting firm. 

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

A trend that 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. 

A war that has seen a predominantly one-sided narrative being carried and sustained in some media houses and government offices. 

What is, however, more disheartening about this internal fall 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 as this week, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government, Fred Matiang’i made frivolous allegations about some of the directors of gaming companies in Kenya.

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

Allegations that eventually led to the deportation of the ‘foreign’ investors, despite the fact that the CS is yet to provide evidence to the general public to support the government’s actions.

If there was any wrong doing at 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in the sports betting sector have tax disputes with Kenya Revenue Authority, yet you don’t hear of their licenses being withdrawn or suspended nor them getting summons from Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB).

 In recent history, large companies in retail business and manufacturing sectors such as Nakumatt and Keroche faced tax disputes with KRA but ultimately due process through the tax tribunal and court procedures enabled resolutions to be reached without forcefully shutting down the businesses. 

The latest theatre of absurdity has been BCLB’s pretentiousness on their mandate and jurisdiction where the Chairman attempts to control what trading names licensed companies can use. 

Despite court rulings and injunctions issued by Lady Justice Pauline Nyamweya on 16th November and 3rd December 2020 respectively, the Chairman of BCLB and its board went ahead to once again cancel Sportpesa’s license. 

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

 Since 2017, there has been speculation and rumors 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 are strictly adhered to in all disputes.

The absence of which we set course for the slippery slope while confirming a banana republic status as all investors flee to other destinations. — The writer is a commentator on topical issues

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