The decision by Sportpesa to resume operations in Kenya could have opened a pandora’s box revealing the rot beneath billions collected from gamblers in the East African region.
The sports betting company announced that it was resuming operations in Kenya on Friday last week, but was hours later shut down by the Betting Control and Licencing Board (BCLB) over alleged fraud.
The company had relaunched under the umbrella of the Milestone Games Limited, instead of Pevans East Africa Ltd, the real owners of the Sportpesa brand.
It now emerges that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is investigating the blocked partnership between SportPesa and Milestone Games Ltd over suspicion that it is being used to defraud Kenyans.
Already, the DCI has successfully got orders to freeze the use of pay bill numbers, USSD codes and short codes that SportPesa offered Milestone.
“The board [the Betting Control and Licensing Board] is of the view that the said paybill numbers are being used in fraudulent gaming activities. We therefore request to conduct investigations as to how these paybill, USSDs and short codes were activated and transferred from SportPesa to Milestone Games Ltd,” the DCI said in court papers.
“The paybill numbers, USSD codes and short codes were activated and transferred from Pevans (SportPesa) to Milestone games fraudulently. The same are being sued to trade fraudulently even though the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) didn’t approve the licence for SportPesa.”
Milestone said it had been authorised by SportPesa Global Holdings Limited (SGHL) to trade under the name SportPesa and also use the domain names, paybill numbers and short codes.
However, in a statement, one of the shareholders, Mr Paul Wanderi Ndung’u, denied that the Sportpesa brand belonged to SGHL, saying that it belonged to Pevans.
“The shareholders of Pevans East Africa Limited who are the owners of the Sportpesa Brand intellectual properties, its short codes, and assorted Mpesa paybill numbers at both Safaricom and Airtel have never been informed of any impeding resumption of Sportpesa business in Kenya as stated in the press release by Sportpesa chief executive officer Ronald Karauri,” said Ndung’u.
In just hours, Sportpesa is said to have accumulated millions from gamblers who deposited their money and placed bets between Friday evening and Saturday when BCLB blocked the operations of the firm.
“The BCLB are apprehensive that Kenyans are being defrauded by SportPesa and Milestone using numbers provided by Safaricom,” said the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions.