A gold smuggler implicated in a scandal that robbed Kenya of 10 per cent of its GDP in the 1990s has moved his smuggling operation to Zimbabwe and Dubai, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) can reveal.
Kamlesh Pattni was involved in the so-called Goldenberg scam, a gold smuggling operation that robbed Kenya of $600mn and led to charges of corruption against many members of then President Daniel Arap Moi’s government. After years of prosecution, Pattni was acquitted.
Pattni, who later became a self-proclaimed pastor and sometimes goes by the name Brother Paul, is now running a similar scheme in Zimbabwe from his base of operations in Dubai.
The revelation is part of Al Jazeera’s Gold Mafia, a four-part series investigating some of Southern Africa’s largest gold smugglers and money launderers.
Undercover Al Jazeera reporters pretending to be Chinese criminals were offered several options by Pattni to launder more than $100mn.
He would do this by effectively turning the dirty money into gold that is exported from Zimbabwe to Dubai, where Pattni owns several gold-trading companies.
Pattni exports gold bars and jewellery from Zimbabwe through his company Suzan General Trading, which gets paid an incentive by the government to sell gold overseas.
The plan Pattni suggested would mean the dirty money, in US dollars, would be flown to Harare, where it would be declared as the proceeds of the gold exported by Suzan General Trading.
That money is then used to buy more gold in Zimbabwe, which would then be exported to one of Pattni’s Dubai-based companies.
Owning both the exporter in Zimbabwe and the importer in Dubai gives Pattni the opportunity to launder the money, which would then be paid into a Dubai bank account and would appear to come from legitimate gold trade. Pattni himself would take a 10 per cent commission.
Always have the king with you’
During the secretly recorded conversations with Al Jazeera reporters, Pattni claimed that the country’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was aware of his gold-smuggling and money laundering operations.
When asked about Mnangagwa’s involvement, Pattni said: “He knows of course, yes. But he can’t, he will not talk too openly.”
“When you work you must always have the king with you, the president.”
Pattni showed several WhatsApp conversations he allegedly had with Mnangagwa, adding that “he has to be informed”.
The scheme helps Zimbabwe secure large amounts of US dollars, a hard currency the country can then use on its internal and international markets at a time when its own currency has lost much of its global standing because of hyperinflation.
Since the 1990s, Pattni has cultivated close ties with several leaders all over Africa, and was quick to boast of that proximity while speaking with Al Jazeera’s reporters.
He showed them photos of himself with former Libyan President Muammar Gadaffi, former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and ex-Kenyan presidents Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki.
His rise to power started in his home country Kenya — at a tailor’s shop in Nairobi. At a time when Western sanctions were strangling the country’s economy in the 1990s, Pattni told our reporters that he bumped into the East African nation’s head of intelligence while looking for a suit.
He offered to bring in revenue in exchange for gold. Pattni claimed the intelligence officer took him to meet President Arap Moi.
Pattni’s company, Goldenberg International, was granted an exclusive licence to export Kenyan gold, but instead, he allegedly smuggled gold from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That gold was then sold abroad, while Pattni’s company allegedly charged the government a 35 percent commission. He told our reporters he was an “adviser” to Arap Moi, who was under growing domestic and international scrutiny over his refusal to allow multi-party elections.
“In 1992, there was a lot of fights, riots in the street and they wanted [a] multi-party [system],” Pattni said. “We advised just make it multi-party because ‘the money is with you, you will still win [the election].’”
“I help[ed] the president to survive.”
After Arap Moi eventually left office in 2002, Pattni was charged with several counts of fraud in a court case that would drag on for more than a decade.
Arap Moi and many members of his government were also implicated in the scandal, and were accused of receiving bribes from Pattni and his aides. But Pattni was eventually acquitted — and no one has been convicted for the scam.
When asked to explain the revelations emerging from Al Jazeera’s investigation, Pattni denied any criminal wrongdoing in Kenya and emphasised that he had never been convicted in relation to his activities in that country.
He denied involvement in any kind of money laundering, as well as employing anyone to smuggle cash or offering to deal with funds he knew originated from illegal sources.
He said that when he met with Al Jazeera’s undercover team, he thought he was meeting with an investor who wanted to buy a stake in hotel businesses and “to divest of a portfolio in China into gold buying and mining in Zimbabwe”.
Other individuals and entities mentioned in this report did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.