Kamlesh Pattni who is widely accused of being the architect of Kenya’s most brazen looting of public coffers in which Sh100 billion was lost in a gold importing scam is facing similar accusations in Zimbabwe where he relocated to in 2006.
Pattni who shot to infamy in the 1990s through the Goldenberg saga where he made fictitious imports and exports of gold, replicated his thieving ways in Harare where authorities are now astonished by the semblance of ideas on how to earn the country some foreign currency amid biting shortages that have dogged the country’s economy since 2016.
The businessman now finds himself at the centre of graft investigation in Harare as president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who campaigned in July last year for Zimbabwe’s presidency on platform of ending corruption, goes after the big fish who have looted the country dry.
The Mnangagwa’s administration is struggling to overcome the national economic destruction wreaked on Zimbabwe over three decades under Robert Mugabe. This included profligate spending, immense debt pileup, colossal corruption, and ravaging of the country’s once immensely productive agricultural sector.
Last week Uhuru Kenyatta met Mnangagwa’s special envoy Perence Shiri. Weekly Citizen could not establish if Pattni’s name featured in the discussion. The envoy praised Uhuru’s leadership saying it has enhanced bilateral relations between Kenya and Zimbabwe as well as many other nations across the continent.
Insiders aver that a company owned by Pattni, Suzan General Trading is among those being investigated by Harare authorities over theft of gold and other mineral worth billions of shillings which has contributed to the near collapse of the country’s economy.
Pattni according to highly placed sources relocated to Zimbabwe where he established a thriving business using political connections.
Sources say on landing in Harare in 2006, Pattni forged close ties with among others the then Zimbabwean vice president Joyce Mujuru.
With Mujuru’s help, Pattni got rights to manage the duty-free shops in Harare.
Mujuru was appointed vice president by Mugabe in 2004.
But in 2014, Mugabe sacked Mujuru as vice president and accused her and her cabal of planning to assassinate him. After firing Mujuru, Mugabe appointed Mnangagwa as vice president but later fired him.
Mnangagwa, a former director of intelligence and architect of Mugabe’s most brutal crackdowns on dissent, who is nicknamed “the Crocodile” for his ruthlessness, last year took over as Zimbabwe’s president after the military forced Mugabe to resign. He later won the presidency in last year’s general election.
But before Mujuru was sacked, she had parted ways with Pattni due to the businessman greed which saw him demand half of the profits.
Through Mujuru’s influence, Pattni had started running duty-free shops in Zimbabwe before venturing into Kinshasha in DRC and Durban in South Africa.
Things started going wrong for Pattni in July 2017 when his brother, believed to be his righthand man, Mukesh Mansukhalal Vaya was arrested together with three others — Farid Shahadat, Ryan Gregory Joseph and Delny Deanna Ashley — and booked at Borrowdale Police Station in Harare.
But they were eventually released giving credence to rumours that Pattni had teamed up with another big shot in Zimbabwe government.
Insiders add that when his brother was arrested, Pattni bribed Zimbabwe officials to release him and other accomplices in the theft of the $5 million gold.
The five men linked to Suzan General Trading were released with the government saying they were its agents and partners.
To facilitate the theft, sources claim, Pattni registered a Dubai-based outfit, Fidelity Printers and Refiners to ostensibly buy gold to help the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe boost its gold reserves
Recently, FPR general manager Fradreck Kunaka was quoted by a Zambia newspaper saying “Suzan had a buying licence, which expired in April 2018 and the gold company was among a small band of dealers bringing in $16 million to $20 million monthly ― in cash ― to buy bullion from artisanal miners”.
“The entity used to buy gold and deliver… around five kilogrammes per month prior to the expiry of the licence,” he said.
But opponents rail at Pattni and his associates for running a scheme almost similar to the Goldenberg International scandal that rocked Kenya in the early 1990s while his sympathisers say he had actually helped the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe subsidiary in boosting its gold reserves.
Amid persistent links to Suzan, the controversial merchant vehemently denied involvement in the gold and cash scandal, and owning any shares in the company controlled by Mukesh Mansukhalal Vaya.
The latter also owns Africa Duty Free Investments in Zimbabwe.
Through its special arrangements with the government-owned entity, the Dubai-based commodities trader would buy the mineral off the high street and deliver it for processing at FPR, and another Central Bank-owned company Aurex (Private) Limited before exporting value-added jewellery, they said.
Pattni’s controversial past saw him being tried for an export compensation scheme during Daniel Moi tenure that has always given quite a number of people and competitors the “chills” about his intentions.
But Pattni, who now calls himself “Brother Paul”, denies claims he was arrested and detained in Zimbabwe in July last year.
Reports indicate that police in Zimbabwe recovered Sh400 million in cash and 98 kilogrammes of gold in suitcases at Kamlesh’s residence in Borrowdale, Harare and as well arrested Vaya alongside d Shahadat, Joseph and Deanna.
Police in Zimbabwe said they suspected they were trying to smuggle the cash and gold out of Zimbabwe.