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How Laura’s thirst for fame backfired

A week ago, Laura Akunga was a businesswoman and a wife living a quiet life away from public scrutiny.

That was until last Sunday when she posted on Facebook that she had bought her husband a high-end Land Cruiser VX as a birthday gift.

Photos and a video showing how she unveiled the gift — whose value was given as Sh10 million — would have been an inspirational love story, a magnet for relationship jokes and a marketing strategy for her company, Benchmark Solutions.

Barely 24 hours after the post that inspired widespread news reports and social media comments, bloggers like Robert Alai attempted to burst her bubble by pointing at inconsistencies between her story and previous media interviews.

It was a sign of things to come and a reality check that online publicity is a double-edged sword that can make, or unmake you.

TURN FOR THE WORSE

Soon after, there were allegations that she was a tax defaulter, forcing her to post Kenya Revenue Authority compliance certificates on Thursday to clear her name.

Matters turned for the worse when businessman Sriram Bharatam later emerged with court documents pertaining to a suit he and his firm filed at the High Court in March 31 over a Sh17 million debt owed by both Ms Akunga and her company.

Mr Bharatam alleges that she took money from him on various dates between January 31, 2013 and August 28, 2013.

He claims to have separately given her $98,953 (Sh9.9 million) and another $81,441 (Sh8.1 million) from Iridium Interactive Ltd, where he is a director.

He said that after giving a series of excuses for not paying him back, she stopped communicating with him and his company in October 2013.

In her defence filed in court, which the Sunday Nation has seen, Ms Akunga admits getting money from the businessman due to what she calls family friendship.

STRONG FRIENDSHIP

“Ms Akunga and Mr Bharatam had a strong friendship, which included their families and professional associates. As a result of his family friendship, Mr Bharatam frequently loaned money to Ms Akunga,” says her lawyers in a statement of defence presented to court on May 29.

Responding to a claim by Mr Bharatam that he gave her $3,529 (Sh 351,412) in April 2013 to help her keep the business afloat, she says: “[Mr Bharatam and his company Iridium] voluntarily offered their assistance on the basis of the social and professional association.”

Also, Ms Akunga says Mr Bharatam owes her amounts that add up to $605,400 (Sh 60 million) which were accrued on various dates for her offering of linkage services and financial assistance.

She dismisses as “frivolous, scandalous and vexatious” Mr Bharatam’s claims that she had lied to him that his mother sits on the board of her company and that she draws a salary.

As the legal tussle goes on at the Milimani Commercial Courts, Nairobi, public opinion is divided on whether her decision to announce the gift was warranted and whether she is being victimised.

Editor’s note: Full version of the story available on the Sunday Nation of July 05, 2015