Kenyan businessman Paul Kamlesh Pattni, who gave President Robert Mugabe a royal robe which reportedly once belonged to slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, is linked to an $850 million fraud case that almost ground the East African nation to a halt in the 1990s, Kenyan Embassy sources disclosed yesterday.
The money equivalent to 5% of Kenyas gross domestic product at the time was looted from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) in what became known as the Goldenberg Scandal during former president Daniel arap Mois tenure.
Pattni is now facing a litany of felony charges and of exploiting a scheme designed to revitalise Kenyas faltering economy in the 1990s. The matter will go for full trial from April 16.
Head of chancery at the Kenyan Embassy in Harare Peter Nairimo told NewsDay the embassy was not aware of Pattnis private visit to Zimbabwe early this month.
We saw in the newspapers that he (Pattni) came here. He didnt come to the embassy. We were not notified of his visit and we didnt know he came here, but let me investigate what you say. I will call you, Nairimo said.
But other embassy officials who declined to be named for fear of reprisal claimed Pattni, a Kenyan-Indian businessman, had several corruption charges hanging over his head.The officials disputed Pattnis claims he represented Kenyas traditional leaders.
But president of the Chiefs Council Fortune Charumbira yesterday defended Pattni insisting he had visited in his official capacity as a representative of Kenyas traditional chiefs.
It is not the first time Pattni has come to Zimbabwe as he was here before. We are not legally allowed to comment on what you are saying about him (the alleged criminal record), I dont have that information, Charumbira said.
And that is politics now, all we know is that he came here as the representative of the Kenyan Chiefs Council.
Pattni was introduced to Mugabe at the chiefs annual conference in Bulawayo as national chairperson of the House of Traditional Elders in Kenya.Immediately afterwards, Pattni presented the gown, hugged and anointed
Mugabe Chief of Africa after Gaddafi.
Mugabe had a slight feel of the robe before Charumbira took it away.
I got the gown from Gaddafi before he died. So after his death Mugabe is the only African leader who deserves to have it. As elders of Africa, we are now looking upon Mugabe to lead us, said Pattni in an interview after presenting the gown.
According to the African Press International, Pattni was among several African traditional leaders from different countries invited by Gaddafi to anoint him as King of Africa in January last year.
The Indian-Kenyan reportedly received a royal reception at Gaddafis desert tent hotel where the function was held. The matter, however, sparked an outcry in his home country with people accusing Gaddafi of honouring a suspected criminal.
Pattni recently offered to surrender his Grand Regency Hotel (Laico) to the State in return for dropping of a 5,8 billion Kenyan shillings criminal charge levelled against him.
But Kenyas director of public prosecutions Keriako Tobiko rejected the offer and indicated the matter would now go for full trial from April 16.
Pattni had requested for amnesty in exchange of the hotel, but a consent registered at the High Court omitted a clause that all pending cases against him be withdrawn.
In a letter dated January 27, Tobiko pointed out to Pattnis lawyers the Goldenberg scam extended far beyond the matters relating to the hotel and surrendering the hotel back to CBK could not be used as grounds to justify termination of the pending criminal proceedings.
Pattni is charged alongside former Finance permanent secretary Wilfred Koinange and former CBK general manager Elijah arap Bii. The late former CBK deputy governor Eliphaz Riungu had also been charged with them.
The charge states that they conspired to steal 5, 8 billion Kenyan shillings from the general account at the countrys central bank between April 19 and 29, 2003.
The money belonged to the government. It is understood between 1991-3, Kenya subsidised exports of gold far beyond standard arrangements paying Pattnis firm Goldenberg International 35% more in Kenyan shillings than their foreign currency earnings.
After claiming his firm was processing gold and diamonds for export, Pattni allegedly manipulated loopholes in the system with the help of some government officials.
Economic growth in Kenya stagnated in the aftermath of the scandal, resulting in Pattni and several other suspects, including senior government officials involved in the scandal, being barred from leaving the country.
During an inquiry into the Goldenberg scandal, Pattni implicated Moi, his two sons Philip and Gideon and his daughter June, as well as a host of high-ranking officials.
Pattni was quoted as saying he never visited Moi empty-handed and that he gave money-filled suitcases to the former president.
The scandal reportedly haunted Moi until he left office in 2003.
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