Kenyan named in scam was at Tory ball: Richard Dowden reports on the latest twist in the unravelling of a multi-million pound export fraud

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The Independent Online
THE MAN at the heart of a multi-million pound export scam in Kenya last year attended the Conservative Party's chief fund-raising event, presided over by the Prime Minister.

Kamlesh Pattni, who is under investigation by the Kenyan police for his alleged part in the fraud, which robbed the Kenyan government of tens of millions of pounds, was one of a group of Kenyans who attended the pounds 75- a-head Winter Ball at the Grosvenor Hotel in London on 3 February 1992. With him was Eric Kotut, the Governor of the Kenya Central Bank, who recently resigned over the scandal. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, greeted guests at Mr Pattni's table during the Ball.

Conservative Central Office said that it would not confirm or deny that the Kenyans were at the function. A spokesman said the ball was open to anyone and no list was kept. A month ago a spokesman said it would be easy to check to see if the men had attended. The disclosures will revive concern about the sources of Conservative Party funding.

The ball was attended by the Prime Minister and most leading members of the Conservative Party. It raised pounds 250,000 but it is unclear whether Mr Pattni contributed more than a pounds 75 ticket.

The 'Kenyan' table at the Winter Ball was made up of Mr Pattni, Mr Kotut, Wilfred Koinange, the Permanant Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Philip Mbiti, head of the Civil Service, and Ketan Somaia, Kenya's foremost businessman. Mr Somaia said he was there with his family, invited by another businessman.

Mr Pattni is the joint owner of Goldenberg International, a company which acquired the monopoly of exports of gold and diamonds from Kenya and was granted a 35 per cent export bonus for the commodities by the government. The bonus was agreed by George Saitoti, the Vice-President and, at the time, minister of finance. Mr Pattni set up his own bank, the Exchange Bank, to deal with the transactions.

Between November 1990 and December 1992 Mr Pattni claimed to have exported at least pounds 49m of gold and diamonds, putting in for at least pounds 17m from the Kenyan treasury as an export bonus. This sudden influx of extra money into the economy led to a dramatic fall in the value of the Kenya shilling.

Kenya, however, possesses no diamonds and very little gold, and neither gold nor diamonds appeared in official exports. Suspicions were aroused about the existence of the exported goods. The new Finance Minister, Musalia Mudavadi, ordered closure of the Exchange Bank and said prosecutions would follow. Some of those involved in the scam argued that the transactions were legal because they were approved by the Finance Ministry and that all the appropriate official paperwork exists.

Mr Saitoti has argued that he was simply carrying out the instructions of an inter-ministerial committee. That defence highlights the problem of tracking down corruption in a country where corruption extends to the heart of the state. The man who threatened to expose corruption in Kenya, the then foreign minister, Robert Ouko, was murdered in 1990. His murderers have never been found and a Scotland Yard detective called in to investigate the case complained of official obstruction. He said that senior ministers refused to be interviewed in connection with the killing.

In the wake of the Goldenberg scandal and other financial irregularities, the Central Bank ordered a special audit of four Kenyan banks on the prompting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The four banks are: the Exchange, the Pan African, the Post Bank Credit and the Delphis Bank. Delphis is owned by Mr Somaia. Lord Parkinson, former chairman of the Conservative Party, is chairman of Delphis' parent company, the Dolphin Group.

The results of the audit have not been released but Mr Somaia said recently that it had cleared his bank of any wrongdoing. According to a Central Bank internal memo, however, Exchange, Post Bank and Delphis failed to remit dollars 156m ( pounds 104m) to the Central Bank two months ago but instead invested the money.

After his resignation as Governor of the Bank last week Mr Kotut said: 'The impression that I was sacked due to some misconduct or that I may be associated with some malpractices committed either in some commercial banks or by some individuals within the Central Bank is false and unfair.'

The Finance Minister, Mr Mudavadi, said in a statement that he had launched 'intensive investigations' into the operations of the Central Bank and that reports by the independent team of auditors to look into the activities of the bank had revealed financial irregularities - and prosecutions would follow.