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Is it end of the road for oil scam fugitive Devani?

Yagnesh Devani
Mr Yagnesh Devani. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

If he will be charged in court in Kenya, Yagnesh Devani, the fugitive businessman who has been on the run for the past decade, will make history should he eventually face graft charges over the highest amount ever looted in a scandal in Kenya.

The controversial businessman, a Kenyan citizen born on March 23, 1965, caused a nationwide oil shortage in December 2008, following what is commonly known as the Sh7.6 billion Triton oil scandal.

Last week, the Court of Appeal in the UK dismissed his application seeking asylum in the UK, setting the ground for his extradition to Kenya where he faces several charges of serious fraud.

Devani enjoyed high-level connections with the political elite in the government, including several Cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries in his heyday.

He is believed to have funded prominent politicians during the 2007 General Election campaigns.

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Devani also attended the much-publicised Sh1 million a plate lunch to fund-raise for former President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election campaign

“It was also revealed that his ties with the late President Daniel arap Moi led to Triton Petroleum Limited clinching a lucrative contract to supply petroleum products to the Kenya Power and Lighting Company several times,” writes Brian Chama in the book Anti-Corruption Tabloid Journalism in Africa.

Some years before the scandal broke, Devani’s brother Harish Devani, said to be the owner of the multi-million complex Simmers Plaza in Westlands, allegedly committed suicide after swindling close associates of Mr Moi of millions of dollars in tender scandals associated with Kenya Power and Lighting Company and Kenya Ports Authority.

THE SCANDAL

Yagnesh Devani allegedly pulled off a swindle through his company, Triton Petroleum Limited, which he registered in 2000 hoping to cash in on an open tender system which had been introduced to help small indigenous oil companies access fairly priced crude oil for processing at the refinery in Mombasa.

He was the executive chairman of Triton and he held 4,999,5000 of the total share capital of five million shares. The remaining 500 were held by a company called Triton Network Solutions. None of the other three directors of Triton held shares in the company, court documents indicate.

Without any indigenous oil supplies by then, Triton acquired both crude oil and petroleum products from other companies and sold them to companies in Kenya under the scheme known as the Open Tender System (OTS).

In May and June 2008, an oil consignment had been delivered to the port of Mombasa aboard five vessels, the Bahamas-registered SPT Navigator, Elka Aristotle, Chem Marigold, Artic Blizzard and Kara Sea.

The deal to bring in the consignment had been brokered by Devani, who despite receiving such a huge tender, had no money of his own.

The courts have been told Devani managed to circumvent financiers and had the oil passed on to third parties with payments totalling Sh7.6 billion never getting to the joint accounts of the financiers and Triton.

“Triton’s executive chairman and managing director, Yagnesh Mohanlala Devani, has been described as a shrewd businessman who lives large and hobnobs with the high and mighty. A 2006 ceremony to open Triton’s LPG depot was attended by political bigwigs, including then Vice-President Moody Awori, several Cabinet ministers, Hon Raila Odinga, Hon Uhuru Kenyatta, and several permanent secretaries,” the NGO Africog writes in its publication, Analysis of the Triton Oil Scandal.

Other than securing lucrative deals to supply Kenya Power and Lighting Company, Triton was also the local partner of the Reliance Consortium, led by India’s largest private telecom service provider, Reliance Telecoms.

Mr Devani had confided in his friends that he aspired to emulate the achievements of the Reliance brothers, the Indian family with interest in petrochemical industries under the trading name Reliance Industries.

The firm was also among those that received large loans from Charterhouse Bank in contravention of banking regulations in what Parliament suspected to have been money laundering.

The father of one is a trained stockbroker and commodity trader.

He is be extradited to Kenya where he will face court charges in which he took a plea in June, 2009.

Before leaving Kenya Mr Devani had a fleet of expensive vehicles, among them a Mercedes S600, an Audi, a Range Rover Sport, and a Toyota Lexus, among a fleet of close to 10 vehicles.

In 2009, close associates said he owned a house in London worth Sh550 million.

A story is told of how Mr Devani in 2007 flew in guests from the UK and India to celebrate his wife’s 40th birthday in which the guests flew first class and on the eve of the party, the business man chartered a plane to bring in a top singer from India to perform alongside a top UK jazz band.

“Hairdressers for the occasion came in from UK and the United Arab Emirates. Some special guests were presented with classy Rolex watches. The three-day party, “rumoured to have cost upwards of Sh300 million”, was partially held on a special hired dhow as the Tamarind one in Mombasa was considered to be too small for the 200 visitors who dined as they sailed. The Tamarind dhow carried the food,” the Daily Nation reported in 2009.

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