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Police looking for one of the wealthiest Kenyans you probably didn’t know of

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When police raided Humphrey Kariuki’s multimillion alcohol empire in Thika town last week, the world of Kenya’s most reclusive billionaire was opened for all to see.

Detectives led by Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet and senior Kenya Revenue Authority officials made what they said was a dazzling find: An estimated 21 million counterfeit excise stamps and 312,000 litres of illicit products — all worth billions of shillings in taxes.

Mr Kariuki’s Africa Spirits Limited is now under police watch — and by last evening, detectives were still looking for him.

Humphrey Kariuki, 62, is the founder of Janus Continental Group, a conglomerate that includes The Hub – a premier shopping mall in Nairobi; Africa Spirits, a leading manufacturer of Alcoholic beverages; Dalbit Petroleum, one of the largest oil distributors in East and Southern Africa, and Great Lakes Africa Energy, a U.K-based company that is a developer and operator of power projects in Southern Africa. Ndegwa is also the owner of the 5-star Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, and the neighboring Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy and Animal Orphanage. One of Kenya’s most prominent businesspeople, Kariuki is also one of its most controversial. He had been linked in the past to organized crime, but always denied his involvement with businesses in the underworld. Last year he won a libel suit against the popular Standard Newspaper in Kenya on allegations linking him and his businesses to human, narcotics and weapons trafficking.

Humprey Kariuki Ndegwa

Africa Spirits is only a small part of Mr Kariuki’s multibillion empire — all under the name of a holding company, Janus Continental Group and which encompasses all that a billionaire would want: A five-star luxurious Mt Kenya Safari Club originally a retreat to famous Hollywood stars such as William Holden — who founded the club.

Its members once included British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US singer and actor Harry Bing Crosby.

The name Janus is significant in one critical way — and for such an empire.

Janus, which means “the beginning and origin of things”, is an ancient two-faced Roman god who provided protection in the beginnings and endings “at the gates, the doorways, and passages and endings”.

As a god, Janus had the uncanny ability to see both in front and behind; thanks to his being a two-faced god.

But when detectives raided one of Janus’ establishments in Thika — it seemed that the protection against any nosy raid on Janus properties had vanished; at the tail-end of January (which ironically stands for the month of Janus).

Unlike other billionaires who love publicity, Mr Kariuki is the country’s equivalent of Mr Brad Kelley, the US tycoon known for his love of exotic animals, and who despite his extra-ordinary wealth shies away from publicity.

IMPORTED CARS

Born 61 years ago in Nyeri in a family of 10, Mr Kariuki studied at Nairobi School and Kagumo High School before joining Central Bank of Kenya when he was only 19 as a clerk.

“I was at the bottom of the ladder. I always tell people that in life you need to start from the bottom; the only place where you start at the top is when you’re digging a well. So I started as a clerk, and then went on to work in various other departments in the bank,” he told Forbes magazine in 2017.

Mr Kariuki says he made some “decent income” at Central Bank and that he ventured into the business world by importing cars — starting off with a car owned by his UK-based elder sister which he had shipped to Nairobi.

“I was able to sell (the car) at double the price my sister was asking for. I gave my sister her money and kept the rest for myself. I was amazed, and I wondered: ‘Is this how easy it is to make money?’”

And that is the story that Mr Kariuki tells about his rise into the billionaire ranks.

MEETING PLACE

He would later set up the famous Green Corner Restaurant at Nairobi’s Tumaini House, behind Kencom House, where he struck everyone as a hands-on manager.

Every morning, in the late 80s and early 90s Mr Kariuki — slim and always smartly dressed — would be here walking the tables and freely engaging his customers.

At best, he was always at hand to deal with customer complaints right away and this made Green Corner the go-to-and-must-be-seen-at place for the hip crowds of Nairobi.

The building, owned by the National Council of Christian Churches (NCCK) — was by then the mini-headquarters of anti-Moi elite squad and housed offices of fierce critics such as Pius Nyamora’s Society Magazine, lawyer Gitobu Imanyara’s Nairobi Law Monthly, and Dr Oki Ooko Ombaka’s Public Law Institute (PLI).

Green Corner, downstairs, was the perfect meeting point of all multiparty crusaders – likes of Raila Odinga, Paul Muite, Gitobu Imanyara and Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o.

Another common face at the restaurant was Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya boss John Harun Mwau — a well-known millionaire.

RESTAURANTS

Whether Mr Kariuki took note of this crowd is not clear — but those who saw him then knew he was always apolitical. “He would say hello and disappear,” a man who knew him in those days tells this writer.

“We made the best hamburgers, steaks, and samosas among other things. For years, Green Corner was the place where professionals who worked in Nairobi converged for their lunch and business meetings,” he said in the Forbes interview.

Humphrey Kariuki presents a donation.

Besides Green Corner, Mr Kariuki also had another restaurant which he named Twigs, which was next door to Green Corner but serving the higher end of clients.

For some strange reason, Green Corner was better known than Twigs Restaurant.

At the indoor parking of Tumaini House, Mr Kariuki’s car business blossomed and here, one could find the latest state-of-the-art European motor vehicle models such as BMWs, VWs, Mercedes and Range Rovers.

ALCOHOL

At any given time, there would be an average of five vehicles with foreign registration number plates.

After a few days, the vehicles would be replaced with another different set — meaning he was in a booming business.

That Mr Kariuki would be able to import such high-end cars at a time when the foreign exchange regime was prohibitive meant a lot on the kind of business strings that he managed to pull or, perhaps, pointed to his acumen as an astute businessman.

But again, Mr Kariuki had previously worked at the Foreign Exchange Department of CBK which was approving foreign currency for businessmen intending to import goods.

While still in his late 20s, Mr Kariuki ventured into wines and spirits distributorship through Wines of the World Limited as the distributor for Jack Daniels, Bacardi and the Edrington Group, whose premium brands include The Macallan, The Famous Grouse, and Brugal rum.

SOUTH SUDAN DEALS

Later on, he started building his own factory in 2002 with the brand Blue Moon Vodka manufactured by Africa Spirits Limited – the company that was raided by detectives.

“I’m proud to say that Africa Spirits Limited is the most successful indigenous alcoholic beverage company in Kenya today,” he had said two years ago.

But the big break came after he was introduced to South Sudan wheeler-dealers and he managed to strike multimillion-dollar oil and construction deals.

“The margins were astronomical. The volumes weren’t much, but the margins were crazy,” he told Forbes.

It was this period that he built the Hub shopping mall in Karen and also bought Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki.

Besides the current raid on his factory, Mr Kariuki’s efforts to get an exclusive license to import and distribute 214 premium wine and spirit brands including Bacardi-Martini labels has been thwarted by the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) this year.

The Wines of the World wanted to enter exclusive distribution agreements with various alcohol manufacturers.

The DCI alleges that Africa Spirits has been smuggling ethanol of questionable quality which has been used to produce some of its popular vodka, gin, and whisky brands which the DCI says is unfit for human consumption. The Kenya Revenue Authority also alleges that the company has failed to remit more than $30 million in taxes. The authorities have since arrested and detained a production manager at the factory to facilitate further investigation.

 

Agencies

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Africa

How Raila made heads turn in Ethiopia as he wined and dined with African heads of state

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When he was appointed African Union’s envoy in October last year, a host of Kenyans were sceptical about the significance of Raila Odinga’s new assignment, with others even dismissing the development as a ploy to politically neutralise the Opposition leader.

But the recently concluded 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa may well have changed this perception.

During the two-day event, Mr Odinga joined African leaders in deliberations in the Ethiopian capital.

Complete with a golden circular badge on his coat lapel, reserved only for participating heads of state and high-profile guests including United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader savoured his moment as VVIP at the Addis Ababa event.

NATIONALIST

From the “high table”, he mingled freely and shared hearty moments with continental leaders, a factor that quickly prompted teasers on social media that Kenya was represented at the Addis Ababa event by “two presidents” — Mr Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“The apparent VVIP treatment of Mr Odinga, almost to the level of a head of state, reflects his status as a pan-Africanist.

“Over the years, Mr Odinga has consolidated his clout as a nationalist, a prominent opposition leader emulated across Africa,” Prof Peter Kagwanja, the chief executive of the Africa Policy Institute, explains.

Prof Kagwanja further observes that Mr Odinga’s continental duty as a mediator in several feuding nations has earned the seasoned politician respect across Africa.

“But particularly the symbolic handshake with President Kenyatta, Mr Odinga has emerged as a statesman whose maturity and stature helped Kenya avoid polarisation.”

MEDIATOR

Mr Odinga’s interest in conflict resolution on the continent dates back as early as the 1990s, when he was a backbencher in the August House as the Lang’ata MP.

He was seconded to Mozambique and later Burundi by US pro-governance institutions to monitor the conflict and political situation in the two nations.

Later in 2011 as Prime Minister, the African Union dispatched him as a special envoy to the troubled Côte d’Ivoire to mediate the presidential poll impasse between strongman Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara.

Noting that Mr Odinga has similarly led several electoral observer missions for AU and other global entities across Africa, his spokesman Dennis Onyango partly attributes his boss’s growing influence to the general respect Kenya enjoys among peers on the continent.

“I do not think it is just about Raila. There is a Kenyan factor to this growing respect and influence, and in fact some call it Uhuru-Raila factor in Africa, which has gotten stronger with time, thanks to the handshake.

“The country and its leadership are looked at differently at global events — with awe and a lot of respect,” Mr Onyango tells the Sunday Nation.

SOUTH SUDAN CRISIS

According to Mr Odinga’s aide, continental leaders have lately tended to adopt the uniform position taken by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

And the spokesman cites the instance of the recent Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) polls, where world leaders, including African presidents, initially rejected the election of Mr Felix Tshisekedi as President of DRC, instead siding with opposition leader Martin Fayulu, and demanding a repeat poll.

Somehow, it took the firm stand of the Kenyatta-Odinga pair to save the continent from a wait-and-see scenario and fully support Mr Tshisekedi.

But this was after most of the African leaders kept away from the swearing-in ceremony on January 24, which was attended by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

“Similarly in South Sudan, the uniform and firm stand by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to resolve the long-standing political dispute between President (Salva) Kiir and Dr (Riek) Machar quickly found favour among other African leaders,” says Mr Onyango of the Kenyatta-Odinga pair, who proposed that Mr Kiir and Mr Machar serve as President and Vice-President, as before.

TASKS

In a way, therefore, the ODM leader’s shining star on the global scene has greatly been boosted by President Kenyatta, or rather the newfound cooperation between the two.

“Added to these global leadership credentials is his new eminent role as AU envoy of infrastructure, which is a major priority in African Agenda 2063 on continental rebirth and development,” observes Prof Kagwanja.

Mr Odinga’s new role involves supporting and strengthening the efforts of the AU Commission’s departments, planning and coordinating the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).

He is expected to mobilise political support from member states and regional economic communities.

INFLUENCE

Prof Kagwanja says Mr Odinga’s new status places him at the level of Africa’s eminent personalities such as former presidents Thabo Mbeki (South Africa)and Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania) who also have different roles on the continent.

The difference though, according to Prof Kagwanja, is that Mr Odinga has a huge latitude of upward mobility in terms of political influence.

“While his peers are retired, Mr Odinga is still active and influential in his home country and on the African scene. He is definitely charting new waters in African diplomacy.”

SOURCE-nation.co.ke

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Africa

JKIA ranked among the busiest airports in the continent

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The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi has been ranked as one of the busiest airports in Africa.

The latest report by Airports Council International has ranked the facility as the fourth busiest airport in the continent.

Johannesburg International Airport (South Africa) has been named the busiest airport in Africa, handling at least 281 passenger flights on average per day.

Cairo International Airport (Egypt) and Bole International Airport in Ethiopia are ranked second and third busiest airports in the region.

Source: Daily Nation

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Africa

Police question billionaire over undeclared double citizenship

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Detectives questioning billionaire Humphrey Kariuki over tax evasion were taken by surprise last evening after it emerged that he is a citizen of Cyprus. The realisation further complicates their attempts to unravel the shareholding structure of his various firms.

The Nation exclusively learnt that Mr Kariuki was questioned on the dual citizenship and on why he had not disclosed it as required by law.

Besides his Kenyan passport, Mr Kariuki travels on a Cyrus passport, number K0627485, issued on May 19, 2016.

Yesterday evening, officials from the Department of Immigration handed over Mr Kariuki’s file to investigators as it emerged that the tycoon could end up in court over his Cyprus papers.

Source: Daily Nation

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