Tycoon Yagnesh Devani was yesterday put on trial in absentia over a case relating to the Triton oil scandal that saw the Kenya Commercial Bank reportedly lose Sh2 billion.
A witness said the initial due diligence on the Mr Devani’s Triton Petroleum Company before its engagement with the bank bore all the hallmarks of a suspect deal and prompted a crisis meeting in which “issues of concern” were raised. Mr Devani is charged alongside Julius Kilonzo, Collins Otieno, Mahendra Pathak and Benedict Mutua, who were all present in court.
They are accused of stealing tonnes of automotive gas oil (diesel) belonging to KCB from a Mombasa storage facility. Mr Devani fled the country in 2009 and still has a pending warrant of arrest against him.
Victor Mule, an assistant director of public prosecutions, told the court that the prosecution will proceed with the trial in absence of Mr Devani as ordered by the High Court.
The Triton scandal erupted in 2008 when the firm was allowed by the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) to collect oil valued at Sh7.6 billion and sell it on KCB’s behalf without its consent, leaving a fuel crunch in its wake.
Caroline Kariuki, KCB’s former corporate business manager, said an initial request by Triton to sell fuel at the Kipevu oil storage facility in Mombasa on behalf of the bank was received with mixed reactions and drew certain remarks in a letter addressed to the bank’s credit department.
“There was the issue about the exposure to Triton being high, the growth of Triton was also considered high over a three-year period in addition to an adverse mention of Triton by Charterhouse Bank,” Ms Kariuki said.
The Central Bank of Kenya placed Charterhouse Bank under statutory management following money laundering concerns. Ms Kariuki said there was also concern about oil prices fluctuating and that the security of the bank was also considered weak at the time.
She said a team headed by the relationship manager examined Triton’s certificate of incorporation and found that Mr Devani owned 99 per cent of the shares.
KCB in July revealed it had sold Mr Devani’s assets that were used to secure a Sh2.1 billion loan.