Gold Mafia: Kamlesh Pattni given Lifetime Africa Achievement Prize by Millennium Excellence Foundation

Kamlesh Pattni (left) at the Awards ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya in 2012.

When news broke the past week about the man noted as the number one gold smuggler in Africa, Kamlesh Pattni, Ghana Business News started digging to find his links to Ghana. Preliminary findings show that the notorious gold smuggler has a strong link with Ghana, having been honoured with the Lifetime Africa Achievement Prize by Ghanaian organisation, the Millennium Excellence Foundation (MEF).

In 2012 the Kenyan born Pattni was recognised by the MEF for outstanding “humanitarianism and equity in Africa”.

In the first episode of a four-part investigation by the Investigative Unit of Al Jazeera titled ‘Gold Mafia’, a rival of Pattni, Ewan Macmillan described him as the number one gold smuggler in Africa, and he Macmillan is number two, he says.

Pattni was honoured together with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. The Late President John Evans Atta Mills of Ghana was also posthumously honoured at the ceremony alongside Mohammed Mo Ibrahim, Egyptian opposition leader Mohammed El Baradei, Nigerian politician, Godswil Akpabio , Kaumbi Chapwe, businessman Aliko Dangote, daughter of former Angolan president, Isabel Dos Santos and Noo Letele.

The citation for Pattni signed by Founder and President of the Foundation, Ashim Morton, reads: “This exaltation of character, which is worthy of emulation, has made positive impact on the lives of your people today and will continue to influence them for a better future”.

At the time he was given the award, Pattni was facing charges for what in Kenya was known as the ‘Goldenberg Scandal’. A year later in 2013, however, the case in court collapsed and he was never convicted as he negotiated a settlement with the Kenyan government.

Described as one of the biggest corruption scandals that stole billions of Kenyan money, almost bankrupting the country, the story of the scandal is that between 1991 and 1993, Pattni, through his company, Goldenberg International, approached the Moi Administration with an idea then considered as “bright”. The idea was that he could get gold and export it from Kenya to earn foreign currency for the government.

According to the country’s trade policy of the time, any exporter depositing US dollars into the Central Bank would get an equivalent in Kenyan Shillings and 20 per cent additional incentive. In the case of Goldenberg, export compensation was raised to 35 per cent in violation of the policy.

The deal however, turned out to be the biggest fraud in the history of Kenya involving the top political leadership and senior civil servants of the Moi government.

It was discovered that there was no gold, or very minimal if any at all, exported because Kenya had no significant gold deposits. Whatever amount of gold used in the scheme could only be smuggled into the country, probably from the Congo. This fact was confirmed by the Al Jazeera investigation – the gold was coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The fraudulent deal sifted about $600 million out Kenya and was estimated to have cost the country the equivalent of more than 10 per cent of its annual GDP.

Even though some members of the Moi and later, Kibaki government, and the judiciary were implicated in the scandal, no one was ever convicted despite two enquiries.

In the Al Jazeera investigation, Pattni was secretly recorded telling undercover reporters that with the money he made from the heist, he was able to keep Moi in power.

Africa produces more than 60 metal and mineral products and is a major producer of several of the world’s most important minerals and metals. Africa has been cited as the future of the electric car. But Africa also has the largest number of the world’s poor and unemployed, while the precious minerals are obviously being captured and controlled by gangs.

At the 8th African Development Forum held in Addis Ababa in 2012, African countries deliberated on how Africa can benefit from the large natural resources on the continent.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

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