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Alessandro Torriani: The Italian Who Owned Five Islands In Kenya, Including 62 Acres In Funzi

The name Alessandro Torriani is not common in Kenya. Apart from his skin color, he would have largely remained unknown to most locals. Interestingly, this tycoon owned five islands in the Kenyan coast. 

In this article, WoK brings you the story of Alessandro Torriani – the Italian Tycoon who owned part of Funzi Island where he constructed a Ksh240 million luxury hotel which was later repossessed by the government.

Background

Alessandro Torriani is an Italian tycoon who owned land at Funzi Island in the Indian ocean. He constructed the Funzi Keys resort which was estimated to be worth over Ksh240 million. The eco-friendly resort with door-less cottages attracted wealthy individuals paid Ksh80,000 per night. The tycoon came under fire when the ownership of the land was questioned and the community was up in arms when he cut down indigenous trees that were over 100 years old.

According to Kenyaninsights.com, Alessandro Torriani owned 62 acres of Funzi Island and four other islands in the Indian Ocean. He put some properties up for sale with one piece going for Ksh1.6 billion. The price tag raised eyebrows among Kenyans which led to investigations on the land ownership.

Ownership

It later emerged that the 62 acre Funzi Island belonged to 86 year old Mr Hamisi Mwatende. Appearing before the committee on historical land injustices at the Kenya School of Government in Mombasa, Mwatende revealed that he had only been left with a  makuti-thatched house.

He stated that he had received threats from land officials in Kwale when he inquired about his land titled L.R NO. KWL/FUNZI/64. The land was transferred from Mwatende to five people who later sold it to Torriani. The five were identified as Mr Daniel Kibuka Gikonyo, Mr James Gakunya Kahiu, Mr Frank Gitau Njenga, Mr. Lawrence Kinyanjui Gitau and Ms. Betty Muthoni Gikonyo. The commission also found out that Mwatende was approached by unknown persons who paid him Ksh500,000 which was not documented and that’s how he lost his multi-billion beach land.

Court Case

In July 2021, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu led the Supreme Court of Kenya in upholding the decision by the court of appeal to repossess the land in which Torriani’s Funzi Keys Resort sits. The court declared that the land where Pati Limited (owned by Alessandro Torriani) haD constructed a luxury hotel is a forest land and was set apart for boat landing.

“The suit land was set apart for use as a boat landing base, (a purpodse that would have benefited the local communities ordinarily resident in the area) yet the appellant (Pati) has constructed a five-star hotel on it. There is no further notice on record for change of purpose of setting aside,” the court ruled.

“The entire process and notice for setting apart fell far short of the requirements of the constitution and the law. In view of these shortcomings and our conclusion regarding the legal status of the suit land, we find no reason to upset the judgment of the Court of Appeal,” read the ruling.