A British businessman has been charged with manslaughter after 48 Kenyans died when the dam on his farm burst.
Perry Mansukhlal Kansagra, a member of one of the UK’s richest families, denies manslaughter and rejects claims that the dam was built illegally. He faces life imprisonment if found guilty.
The dam, which had been built near Kansagra’s 33,000-acre farm in Kenya’s Rift Valley, burst in May after weeks of torrential rain. A “sea of water” careered down a hillside and swept away two villages.
The estate, known as Patel Farm, grows tea, coffee and roses and is near a township called Solai in Nakuru County, about 120 miles north of the capital Nairobi.
The walls of the reservoir, which Kenya’s water management agency said had been built without necessary approvals, gave way on 10 May as nearby residents were sitting down to evening meals.
Nearly half of those who died were children. Five thousand people are thought to have lost their homes.
In a statement, prosecutor Noordin Haji said unqualified staff had built the dam using farm equipment, relying on flawed designs and without the necessary environmental impact assessment.
Kansagra, 44, and his family are worth an estimated £320 million and are ranked as the 388th richest family in Britain on the Sunday Times Rich List.
Their business assets include One Aldwych, a five-star hotel in London. They also have interests in oil and gas, agriculture, mineral processing, shipping and property in the UK and Africa.
The businessman was in the UK at the time of the disaster but was arrested following his return to Kenya. He is now on bail after surrendering his passport.
At the time, Vinoj Kumar, general manager of the Solai farm, blamed the disaster on massive rainfall in a forest above the dam.
“In the past two days the intensity of the rain was high and the water started coming down carrying boulders and roots which damaged the wall,” he told Reuters. “The dam wall cracked and the water escaped.”
Veronica Wanjiku Ngigi, 67, said she was at home brewing tea with her son at about 8pm (1700 GMT) when Kumar’s wife rushed in to say the dam had burst and they needed to get to higher ground immediately.
“It was a sea of water. My neighbour was killed when the water smashed through the wall of his house. He was blind, so he could not run. They found his body in the morning,” she said. “My other neighbours also died. All our houses have been ruined.”
Many of the bodies of those who died were found several miles away, such was the force of the water.
Paul Mundia, who lost his wife and eight-year old son, said: “The water washed them away four kilometers from where our house was.”