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November 16, 2018

STAR COMMENT: This Man Kamlesh Pattni

Businessman Kamlesh Pattni during an interview at Radio Africa Group offices, Nairobi, November 6, 2018. /EZEKIEL AMING'A
Businessman Kamlesh Pattni during an interview at Radio Africa Group offices, Nairobi, November 6, 2018. /EZEKIEL AMING'A

Controversial businessman Kamlesh Mansukhal Damji Pattni was thrust into the limelight over three decades ago by the multi-billion-shilling Goldenberg scandal.

For over a decade, Pattni was in and out of court fighting accusations ranging from theft to fraud, forgery to tax evasion.

Described by some as one of the shrewdest businessmen, Pattni's story is a one of the proverbial man with nine lives.

He was at one time accused of bribing then Opposition leader, octogenarian Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, to compromise investigations into his controversial Goldenberg scheme — a claim vehemently denied by the man who led Pattni to him, lawyer and politician Paul Muite.

But of all the controversies he waded through, two stood out — the Goldenberg scandal and the fight over duty-free shops at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

In the Goldenberg case, Pattni was paid billions of shillings for what would later be called fictitious gold and diamond exports.

The over Sh5.8 billion Goldenberg scandal, investigated by three successive regimes, saw Pattni prosecuted in 2013 and acquitted by High Court Judge Joseph Mbalu Mutava amid claims of judicial misconduct.

In the same year, his duty-free shops at JKIA would be demolished, prompting him to lodge several cases against the Kenya Airports Authority.

In a strange twist, in September 2013, Pattni withdrew all the cases he had lodged because he wanted “peace and freedom” and to “concentrate on things that will give him peace of mind.”

This is the same reason he gave when he surrendered the imposing Grand Regency (renamed Laico Regency after being sold to  Libya’s state investment agency) to the State in a trade-off to drop all Goldenberg charges against him.

The wily businessman then entered politics, becoming chairman of the Kenda Party that fielded 170 candidates in 2007 General Election. Pattni ran for MP for Westlands constituency.

His transformation from astute businessman to politician extended to his conversion from Hinduism to Christianity, renaming himself Paul. Before leaving Kenya for Zimbabwe, Pattni was the pastor and televangelist at Hope International Ministry, which he founded. He also ran a charitable trust.

Born in 1965, Pattni once chaired the House of Traditional Elders whose members were drawn from various communities in Kenya. He sponsored them to travel to Libya to meet then-President Muammar Qaddafi.

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