Abdul Karim Popat: The Villa Rosa Kempinski And Imperial Bank Owner Who Drew & Signed a Deal With His Kidnappers

Abdul Karim Popat: The Villa Rosa Kempinski and Imperial Bank Owner Who Drew & Signed a Deal With His Kidnappers
Simba Corp founder Abdul Karim Popat (center) returns home after the kidnapping ordeal on May 3, 1998. |Courtesy| The Standard|

Abdul Karim Popat is easily among the wealthiest individuals in the country. He is the founder of Simba Corp which held the franchise for Mistubishi in Kenya, and owned a string of businesses, including Imperial Bank. He is also the owner of the luxurious Villa Rosa Kempinski located in Westlands Nairobi.

Karim, a self-taught accountant began his entrepreneurial journey in Nakuru where he bought second-hand cars and resold them in Nairobi in what later morphed into Deluxe Motors along K-Street in 1948.

Deluxe was later rebranded to Simba Colt Motors in 1968 and held the Mitsubishi and later Renault franchises in Kenya.

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Simba Colt is the flagship venture of Simba Corporation with interests in motor sales, service and leasing, real estate, hardware supplies, manufacturing, cinemas, film distribution, hospitality and finance including Imperial Bank, the 20th Century Plaza, Xylon Motors (Mahindra), Bavaria Auto (BMW), Simba Transport Solutions, Africa Fleet Management Solutions, Avis car rental and Olare Mara Kempinski and Nairobi’s Villa Rosa Kempinski.

Karim Popat died of natural causes in 2013.

In this article, WoK reflects on the time when the billionaire businessman was kidnapped and forced into drawing and signing a deal by his abductors.


Karim was kidnapped by three men who demanded Ksh200 million ransom from the business mogul. During the incident, he was contractually obligated to pay the ransom. Interesting, right?

Popat was abducted together with two of his employees on the evening of Thursday, April 30, 1998, along a road leading to the businessman’s house. They were bundled into a waiting BMW 320 and driven to a compound in Karen.

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The abduction was masterminded by serial criminal Alois Kimani and recruited two others, , James Wamae, a computer programmer and Ken Kinyanjui, a university graduate.

The trio had stolen the BMW, contributed money and rented out the house in Karen for one month. They followed Popat around for three weeks, watching his every move before they executed their plan.

While in holding, the kidnappers allowed Popat to read books, and newspapers and even call his wife to assure her that he was okay. The businessman managed to negotiate the ransom all the way down to Ksh6 million. The abductors drew a contract and Popat signed it, committing to paying the ransom. The money was to be delivered to City Park or Nairobi War Cemetery.

The kidnappers then proceeded to drop off Popat at his home so that he could fulfil his contractual obligations but police were at his house, and they were forced to abort the mission and go back with him to Karen.

The abductors made their second mistake when they accompanied Mohammed, then-Imperial Bank Managing Director and forced him to withdraw the money before letting him go. They also took his phone and used it to call various police stations asking for ransom before they could release Popat. They also took the third man, Popat’s driver Stephen Kamau, to hospital after he fell from the ceiling while trying to escape.

Kamau died while undergoing treatment in hospital.

The mobile phone they had taken from Mohammed rubberstamped the failure of their plan. At the time, mobile technology was relatively new in the country and the thugs did not know that their calls could be tracked. Police traced the calls to Karen and raided the compound on Sunday evening, May 3, 1998.

At the time, only Wamae and Kinyanjui were guarding Karim. When the police showed up and surrounded the house, the two surrendered and the business mogul was rescued.

When Kimani returned to the compound, he was met with police officers waiting for him. He was gunned down after he shot at the officers.

Wamae and Kinyanjui were sentenced to three years in prison each.

Watch video of his return home here, courtesy of Reuters: https://reuters.screenocean.com/record/991245

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