Tanzanian, Kenyan battle in US court for late Pepsi executive's Sh8.5bn estate

William Mutilangi

A four-bedroom house built by former Pepsi Cola director William Mutilangi (inset) at the family's compound in Masii, Machakos County in this picture taken on January 16, 2024. Mr Mutilangi owned 10 houses in Kenya and one in New York. He died on October 16, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Edward Nzesya Mutilangi, the younger brother of deceased Kenyan PepsiCo executive, William Mulwa Mutilangi, has filed a petition in New York seeking to be declared the administrator of his vast estate, pitting him against Tanzanian national, Bakari Kisalu Malanda, who claims to be his son.

Mr Nzesya, through his New York-based lawyer, Japheth Matemu, filed the petition with the Westchester County Surrogate’s Court in New York.

His brother, Mr Mulwa, died late last year under unclear circumstances.

The Tanzanian national claiming to be his son authorised the cremation of Mr Mulwa’s body and then set out to acquire his assets in Nairobi and New York.

The filing by Mr Nzesya was made on January 29, and tentatively values Mr Mulwa’s estate in the US at not more than Sh81 million ($500,000), according to legal documents seen by the Nation.

The $500,000 estimate, which relates only to Mr Mulwa’s assets in the United States, is not a final figure because no comprehensive valuation of his personal and real property has been done yet, said Mr Matemu.

“That $500,000 is tentative, a stand-in figure,” he said, adding that he was still working with an accountant, Nicholas Kamwela, to come up with the correct valuation for all of the assets owned by Mr Mulwa. “We will do [proper] valuation later. In fact, we will employ a private investigator to help us recover everything that belongs to William. This is the first step, there are still a lot more to be done.”

Mr Mulwa owned a townhouse in Peekskill township, a 2017 BMV sports utility vehicle, a life insurance, employee death benefits, and several registered patents with PepsiCo in the US.

In Kenya, he owned prime real estate in Nairobi and Machakos, with his total assets estimated to be worth at least Sh500 million.

As director of research and development at a global brand beverage company and given his experience of about three decades at PepsiCo, Mulwa’s remuneration package was probably anywhere from Sh32.4 million ($200,000) and Sh65 million ($400,000) annually, according to Glassdoor.com, a market research firm that provides salaries data for various industries.

Mr Matemu said he has contacted PepsiCo about the case but has yet to receive documents on Mr Mulwa’s benefits from the company.

He also does not yet have tax documents from the US Internal Revenue Service that might help determine the worth of the deceased’s investments.

Edward Mutilangi

Edward Mutilangi, a brother of former Pepsi Cola Director William Mulwa, who died in New York on October 16, 2023, during an interview at Nation Centre on January 13, 2024.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

Besides Mr Nzesya, the petition lists Mr Mulwa’s other five surviving siblings—Vincent, Mary, Lilian, Alice, and Judy—as potential beneficiaries of the estate, otherwise technically called “distributes” in succession law. All of them must consent before Judge Brandon Sall of the Surrogate’s Court can grant Mr Nzesya what is technically called a “Letter of Administration,” or his request to act as executor and trustee of the estate.

Mr Mulwa’s siblings insist that their brother was single his entire life and that his past relationships yielded no children.

But Mr Bakari claims that Mr Mulwa was his father and had drawn a will that leaves his entire multimillion-shilling estate to him.

On October 24, 2023, Mr Bakari executed a power of attorney, a legal authorisation allowing a designated individual to make decisions on behalf of the executor, in favour of New Jersey-based Peter Nderitu Githinji.

The power of attorney was executed through Kahuthu & K Advocates, representing Mr Bakari, and has issued instructions to various institutions to withhold information from anyone seeking details on Mr Mulwa’s assets.

No date has been scheduled yet for the probate hearing, and Mr Matemu is required by law to give proper notice to all five siblings. Probate procedures are typically complex because New York State rules are often so complex. Such cases, particularly where there is no known “last will and testament” and involves foreign parties, can take several months, even years to resolve. The filing indicated Mr Mulwa had no spouse or child.

Meanwhile, Mr Matemu says the house where Mr Mulwa lived in Peekskill township appeared to have been ransacked after he died. The lawyer says he discovered the house in terrible condition when he gained entry on Monday night (January 29), with several items, particularly documents, taken away. He has since changed the house’s door lock.

Sergeant Kevin Stewart of Peekskill Police Department told Nation on Tuesday that Mr Matemu filed a report with the department on Monday about wanting to replace the door lock to stop any potential property theft. However, no police officers went to the house, he said.

Sgt. Stewart also said the report was filed as a civil matter, not a criminal matter, which means the local police won’t be probing into any potential property theft or the circumstances surrounding Mr Mulwa’s death.

Peter N. Githinji, who took Mulwa to Hudson Valley Hospital the week before the latter’s death at a facility for rehabilitation nearby, had access to the house. A call to Mr Githinji’s telephone number went unanswered.