17 May 2017

Kenya: Unmasking Billionaire Millers Who Shipped Maize to Mombasa

Photo: Laban Walloga/The Nation
The MV IVS Pinehurst after it docked at the port of Mombasa on Tuesday with 29,900 tons of maize.

As many questions remain unanswered on the identity of the billionaire millers who brought in the cargo of maize, what is clear is that they have been here before - done that.

When the saga broke, the first name to be mentioned was that of Holbud (UK) Limited as the company that shipped the maize from Mexico.

The last time Holbud was mentioned in Kenya it was about a maize scandal.

That time, in 2004, the National Cereals and Produce Board officials had sold maize from the Strategic Grain Reserve to Holbud at "uneconomical prices", according to a report by the Inspectorate of State Corporations.

Holbud, then, was allocated 1 million bags -- which it sold to Zimbabwe -- after then-Permanent Secretary for Agriculture Shem Migot-Adholla ordered the sale "to offset NCPB's debt to farmers".

BUY MAIZE

The report said Holbud had neither asked to buy the maize nor tendered for it.

Interestingly, earlier in 2002, the same firm had been allowed to import more than 16,000 tonnes of maize from Durban, South Africa, when the country faced a crisis similar to the one we are in today.

And now, questions are once again being raised on this company, which docked in Kenya with 29,900-tonnes of maize this week.

Based in the UK, the company is run by Hasnain Roshanali Merali, David George Rowe, Mahmood Gulamhusein Khaku and Shaukat Akberali Merali.

But according to some court filings -- regarding a Holbud ship, MV Ya Mawlaya, which had an accident in the US, both Holbud and Hydrey (P) Limited are "related companies controlled by Roshan Merali".

SHARE DIRECTORS

Thus, Hydrey (P) Limited is of significance. It is associated to Holbud and the two share directors.

While some government officials say that Holbud was only a transporter of the cargo, aboard MV IVS Pinehurst, it also named the importers as Kitui Flour Mills, Pembe Flour Mills and Hydrey (P) Limited - meaning that Holbud also brought cargo for its sister company.

Two years ago, Holbud was in the news when the parliamentary committee on Agriculture was investigating how the company won a Sh6 billion fertiliser tender and the quality of fertiliser brought in.

On the other hand, Kitui Millers is associated with one of the wealthiest Mombasa families of Salim Taib with an empire straddling East Africa.

He is also associated with Pembe Flour Mills, which also shared in the latest maize cargo.

MOMBASA MAIZE MILLERS

The family also owns a mill in Uganda and another in Tanga, Tanzania.

The other beneficiary was Mombasa Maize Millers.

Founded in 1978, it is associated with the family of Mombasa millionaire Mohammed Islam Ali, who established the company with his brother Ahmed Ali.

Not to be left out is Embakasi-based Alpha Grain Millers whose origin is Moyale, where it started as a distribution company in 1970s. It is run by businessman Mohamednur Khalif and produces Kifaru flour brand.

Initial government reports had said that the maize came from Mexico but when questions were raised how the ship MV IVS Pinehurst managed to sail 17,600 kilometres to Mombasa in just a few days, the story changed to the port of Durban.

SOUTH AFRICAN ROUTE

Ships from North America with cargo destined for East Africa use the Mediterranean route rather than the South African route which is 18,200 kilometres long.

Perhaps the other question was what the ship was doing at Port Louis, Mauritius, on April 19, 2017, as identified in ship tracking sites, before sailing to Durban and then to Mombasa.

Some pundits have said that MV IVS Pinehurst engages in "blue economy" -- a term used to refer to ships with cargo in the high seas awaiting a chance to trade -- but the ministry said the maize cargo came from Mexican stocks that were in South Africa, thanks to another company called Inter Africa Grains PTY.

The company's name was mentioned by Transport Principal Secretary Paul Mwangi, who said the maize was stored in South Africa and that was why the vessel took only five days after importers were given the nod to ship it into Mombasa.

MAIZE SHORTAGE

"The white maize was imported from South Africa from Mexico last year when there was a shortage in that country.

The excess amount was stored in Durban and sold to Kenya from Johannesburg," Dr Mwangi said in Mombasa.

So who is Inter Africa Grains PTY, who sold the maize?

This company is registered in Bermuda, and is an affiliate of Seaboard Corporation, an American company based in Kansas and which describes itself in its United States Securities and Exchange Commission filings as a global agribusiness company.

In Kenya, it owns a 35 per cent stake in Unga Limited and has offices in Mombasa.

LOW PROFILE

US newspapers say its CEO, Steve Bresky, takes a low profile and has never been interviewed by any media, despite having a global network of flour mills, fruit and vegetable operations.

In a recent profile of the company, Kansas City Business Journal described the Fortune 500 establishment as "the silent giant of the Kansas City business scene".

"The most interesting thing about Seaboard is how diverse and global they are, how they're headquartered here, yet they are so unrecognised," Mr David Gibson, a fourth-generation wheat trader told the newspaper.

It is not clear whether this is the same company that has sent the cargo aboard the MV Interlink Priority, which is expected to arrive in Mombasa with another consignment of 37,050 tonnes of maize.

Seaboard owns Unga millers in Uganda and various other milling concerns.

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