24 July 2014

Kenyans Praise UK Court for Jailing Their 'King Con' for Fraud

Kenyans praised the British courts on Thursday for jailing a controversial businessman who had been involved in the East African nation's worst corruption scandal.

Ketan Somaia, dubbed 'King Con', was jailed for eight years at London's Old Bailey on Tuesday after being convicted on nine counts of obtaining money by deception, Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reported.

The trial was England's largest ever private prosecution and the court found that he had fleeced investors of $23 million in 1999 and 2000, the paper said.

Somaia, 52, is infamous in Kenya for his role in the unrelated Goldenberg scandal, in which the central bank lost at least $1 billion in subsidies for gold and diamond exports ahead of the 1992 election. The exports never took place and the economy was severely damaged.

Somaia was sentenced to two years in jail in Kenya in 2004 for stealing from the central bank but was released on appeal eight months later. He was arrested in India in 2009 and extradited to Britain to stand trial on separate charges.

"Kenyans are vindicated," one reader of Kenya's Standard newspaper commented online. "What our corrupt leaders and justice system could not do to a guy who destroyed our economy, UK has finally done."

"Thanks, Britain," said another. "Here in Kenya it would have been a mere slap on the wrist."

"What a relief," commented a third reader. "It's a good pace-setter and wish it can happen to many others in Kenyan corridors of power."

Somaia wooed his victims with luxury trips on private aircraft, champagne parties, extravagant dinners and expenses-paid trips to Dubai, Kenya and South Africa, the Daily Mail said.

"Even after his arrest Somaia continued to live in a manner that 'most can only dream of', dining at the five-star Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair and the exclusive East India Men's Club, and sending his teenage daughter to a finishing school in Switzerland," it reported.

UNTOUCHABLE

Corruption is a major problem in Kenya, often closely linked to the political elite. No senior figure has ever been jailed, leading to the perception that those at the top are untouchable.

Somaia became a millionaire at the age of 36 and was a close friend of President Daniel arap Moi and Vice-President George Saitoti during the Goldenberg era, according to media reports.

The scandal took its name from Goldenberg International, the company which claimed the bogus export subsidies. One of its directors was Kamlesh Pattni, a business partner of Somaia.

Somaia's Delphis Bank acted as bankers for Goldenberg International.

Pattni has since reinvented himself as a preacher, Brother Paul, and even stood for election.

A Kenyan court cleared him last year of all charges related to the Goldenberg scandal, saying the case had dragged on for too long.

Pattni attributed the favourable outcome of the court case to God.

Editing by Tim Pearce; timothy.pearce@thomsonreuters.com

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