Through their 73 accounts at Imperial Bank, W.E Tilley transacted billions of shillings, including the Sh38 billion that was stolen from the bank, giving the impression of a family that had used its skills in white collar crime to build up a fortune.
But our independent investigations tell a story of a struggling family worth not more than a few tens of millions but which may have been used by local and international organised crime networks to clean dirty money through Kenyan banks.
This week, the family’s fish processing plant in Kisumu was put up by a court for auction to settle rent arrears owed to Victoria Distributors Ltd.
From our investigations, we have managed to piece together the kind of lifestyle that members of the fishing family lived as well as shady transactions in tax havens and properties, as well offshore bank accounts held companies related to W.E. Tilley and its directors.
A worrying discovery for Imperial Bank depositors is that W.E. Tilley directors have moved the few assets they had from Kenya save for those that have been frozen.
Firoz Haiderali Jessa, who is the eldest in the fishing family and who calls the shots in W.E. Tilley, does not own a single property in his name in Kenya. At the time of our probe, we found that he spends most of his time with the rest of the Jessa family at their residence in Whispers Estate located along United Nations Road Gigiri. He had rented an apartment at the Tusker Village, but the lease expired in December 2015.
He does not own a single a vehicle. The one he drives in when in Nairobi is leased. His only listed property is a house in Lisbon, Portugal, worth Sh13.56 million.
Other assets we traced are accounts in foreign countries with small balances. For example, we found that Firoz is the main signatory in a bank account at Credit Suisse in Basel, Switzerland where he made huge transactions between 2014 and 2015 to various bank accounts in Germany and a Private Equity Fund in Luxembourg formerly known as Orangefield Group. The fund has since rebranded to Vistra.
He also has an account at Banco General Panama with a cash balance of US$111,000 (Sh11.1 million)
We has also established that the companies which the fishing family used to loot Imperial Bank were fronts for shady international businesses, which were executed through a web of shell companies registered in tax havens.
For example, we have encountered six companies owned by the directors of W.E Tilley registered in Europe, Asia and the United States.
We also found that W.E Tilley is registered in Panama where it also has a bank account at Banco General Panama with over US$ 1 million (approximately Sh100 million). Inwards and outwards, transactions in this account were traced to Switzerland.
Other accounts held by the family and its directors were located in Tanzania (Diamond Trust Bank), Kenya (Standard Chartered) and Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Emirates NDB Group).
The accounts in UAE are particularly important because they provide a snapshot of W.E Tilley’s attempt to hide its shady transactions as well as wealth. Most of the transactions from this account went to Trident Trust, a company with a global reputation of assisting rich people hide clean or dirty money. Trident Trust has operations in 16 offshore destinations renowned for secrecy.
Prime Catch has two shell sister companies; Prime Catch Sea Foods Gmbh registered in Germany and Prime Catch Sea Food (International) AG registered in Switzerland.
Marmo E Granito and Ruby Red, which are registered as mining companies with operations in Tanzania, have sister shell companies; Marmo E Granito Inc registered in the US and Ruby Red registered in the Isle of Man.
Decons Fooder, which is registered in Tanzania, has sister shell companies; Decons Food Industries, Singapore and Decons Food Equipment in Netherlands.
But Central Bank of Kenya (CBK)’s handling of the Imperial Bank saga has been a theatre of errors and deliberate omissions that have provided time and space for destruction of evidence on crimes that occurred in the bank.
CBK and its affiliate Kenya Deposit Insurance Corporation (KDIC) bungled investigations into the Sh38 billion Imperial Bank fraud by helping directors of W.E Tilley, the prime suspects, to cheat justice in spite of their crime.
Our continuing investigation on the Imperial Bank has pieced together events immediately after non-executive directors reported the grand heist to CBK and the desperate attempts to bury evidence on the W.E Tilley directors’ criminal culpability.
All the evidence that would have nailed the architects of the fraud was intact until October 12, 2015. On this day, Imperial Bank chairman Alnashir Popat and other non-executive directors walked into CBK armed with a forensic report detailing how former managing director Abdulmalek Janmohammed, directors of W.E Tilley and CBK officials had colluded to rob off the bank.
Although still in a preliminary form, the forensic audit by London-based FTI Consulting offered all the crucial leads on how W.E Tilley orchestrated the fraud using its 73 accounts at Imperial Bank using a web of accounts in three other Kenyans banks as well as offshore accounts.
As soon as the meeting between CBK and Imperial Bank directors was over, a high ranking CBK officer made a call to Imperial Bank, Kimathi Street Branch located in the Aga Khan-owned IPS Building with very strict instructions.
It should be remembered that it is at the Kimathi Street branch of Imperial Bank where W.E Tilley directors were operating their 73 accounts.
The caller from CBK wanted all documents relating to W.E Tilley accounts destroyed. That very night, after all the junior staff had gone home, all documents on W.E Tilley were set ablaze in a bonfire that lasted up to midnight.
On the morning of October 13, 2013 when officers from KDIC went to the bank to take over control as receiver managers, crucial paper trail had already gone up in smoke.
We have also established that KDIC did a shoddy job in tracking assets owned by W.E Tilley Ltd, related companies and the directors.
Instead, the depositors’ funds protector was only keen on tracing assets that had been undercharged on the irregular loans that the fishing family got from Imperial Bank.
Even when KDIC moved to freeze the assets of W.E Tilley, the identification of assets owned by the fishing business was shoddy leaving out some of its crucial assets.
It is because of this half-hearted efforts to locate all assets owned by the fishing family that Victoria Distributors, W.E Tilley’s landlord in Kisumu succeeded in getting a court order to auction some of the firm’s assets for unpaid rent.
On offer to buyers, according to the auction notice published in Daily Nation on February 19, 2017 were 31 motor vehicles, fish processing and storage machinery as well as construction material.
Tellingly, when he made the ruling that allowed the auction, Justice Stephen Kibunja noted that the Kisumu assets owned by W.E Tilley had not been listed in the asset freeze.
Neither CBK nor KDIC raised objection to the auction either during the court proceedings or when the notice was published.
But the negligence by KDIC is even more astounding when one looks at transactions relating to financial assets owned by W.E Tilley, related companies and the directors.
According to the forensic audit, Sh3 billion looted by the fishing family from Imperial Bank was wired to Fidelity Bank in the same year the fraud was discovered.
In November 2015, a month after Imperial Bank had been placed under receivership, curious transactions happened in Fidelity Bank that should have raised eyebrows within CBK and KDIC. That month, a depositor pulled out Sh3.3 billion from the bank shaking up its liquidity.
Again, no questions were asked by CBK or KDIC even though the two institutions had seen the forensic audit report on Imperial Bank, which detailed how W.E Tilley had transferred a similar amount to Fidelity Bank.
Tellingly, following the Sh3.3 billion withdrawal, Fidelity Bank directors rushed to CBK seeking help to meet liquidity demands and secured Sh1.7 billion.
Instructively in 2016, CBK silently withdrew a moratorium which it had publicly issued on foreign investments into Kenyans banks and allowed a quick succession of share deals in Fidelity Bank.
In March, CBK approved an acquisition of undisclosed stake in Fidelity Bank by UK PE fund, Duet, for Sh1.9 billion.
In November, CBK issued a further approval for acquisition of all Fidelity Bank shares by State Bank of Mauritius for Sh100. Instructively, SBM had in 2015, expressed interest in acquiring Imperial Bank, 13 days after it was placed under receivership. But CBK flatly rejected the Mauritius banks interest on Imperial Bank.
The relationship between Fidelity Bank directors and W.E Tilley directors remains a mystery. However, for directors of a small bank whose assets were valued at Sh16 billion before the Sh3.3 billion withdrawal, it is very unlikely that W.E Tilley directors were just ordinary banking customers at Fidelity Bank. In fact, in October, W.E Tilley with their Sh3 billion at the bank were the biggest depositors holding 25 percent of its liabilities.
Fidelity Bank shareholding was also a secret only known to bank directors and the CBK. Even after CBK Governor Patrick Njoroge ordered the banks to publish names of shareholders of banks on their websites, Fidelity Bank only published owners of a 56 percent stake leaving out the owners of the 44 percent balance.
Our own investigations have also shown that W.E Tilley directors enjoyed an open door treatment at Fidelity Bank to a point that they would get services at odd hours.
Not only did they have an easy access with the bank’s CEO Rana Sengupta, the bank’s Executive Director Sultan Khimji was at the beck and call of W.E Tilley’s directors.
Like in Imperial Bank, Fidelity Bank also allowed W.E. Tilley to make payments to unnamed payees.
In a paper trail we have seen, W.E Tilley accounts at Fidelity Bank were used to finance operations of a group of forex bureaus located at Muthaiga and Village Market in transactions that have the hallmark of money laundering.
According to FTI, W.E Tilley also used accounts in Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) in Kenya and Tanzania for the fraud at Imperial Bank and shady deals suspected to be linked to money laundering.
FTI found that money stolen from Imperial Bank would be wired to W.E. Tilley’s accounts in either Fidelity Bank or DTB in Kenya. DTB was also used to receive suspicious payments from offshore accounts.
One of the suspicious transactions we have seen is of a transfer of Sh4 billion from Emirates NDB Group to Firoze Jessa’s account in May 2015. Ordinarily, such a transaction should have been reported by the bank to the Financial Reporting Centre that handles investigations into such big transactions. But DTB did not report it. The bank was never punished for the crime of not reporting such a transaction, even though CBK is aware that the bank went against the anti-money laundering law and guidelines when handling transactions related to W.E Tilley.
Instead, KDIC would reward DTB with the lucrative and intrusive deal of disbursing money to Imperial Bank depositors two and a half months after it was placed in receivership.
There have been claims that DTB used the deal from KDIC to poach former Imperial Bank staff and in the process compromised evidence that could have been used against W.E Tilley.
In spite of the warning by forensic auditors that W.E Tilley may have been using the accounts at Imperial Bank for money laundering, CBK and KDIC are yet to ask for mutual legal assistance from jurisdictions where the family’s assets are located to have them frozen.
Neither has any criminal proceedings been opened on W.E Tilley directors.