Despite the public uproar that surrounded their purchase of the Grand Regency Hotel, culminating in the ignominious departure of former finance minister Amos Kimunya, the Libyans have now turned their sights on the financial sector and have placed a bid for Equatorial Commercial Bank. The bank, whose headquarters are in the city, is also part of the Sameer Group of Companies, led by businessman Naushad Merali. Merali has a track record of investing in banks together with members of Kenya's leading political families: Merali and members of the Kenyatta family have shares in the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) where the latter has majority shareholding. He also had shares at the former First-American Bank, previously First Chicago Bank, where retired President Moi and his family equally held shares.
It is not clear how much the Libyans want to pay for the bank but those involved in brokering the deal say, ‘We are talking in the hundreds of millions of shillings’. President Kibaki¹s special envoy to Libya, Joe Kamau, is reported to be the man behind the planned take over, which is expected to be completed in Tripoli later this week. According to multiple sources, Libya Arab Investment Portfolio (LAP) is involved in the purchase of the bank that currently has three branches: two in Nairobi and one in Mombasa. Kamau, who was also involved in the acquisition of Grand Regency by the Libyans, is expected to travel to Tripoli this week to brief the potential buyers. He was at the Libyan embassy last week trying to acquire a visa. ‘We are certain that he is behind the sale of the bank to LAP’, stated a source. However, Libyan ambassador to Kenya Alsharif Hisham would not confirm or deny the acquisition.
If the proposed buy-out succeeds it will be the third significant acquisition by the Libyans in the last 18 months. First it was Tam Oil that bought Mobil Oil and changed its name to Oil Libya. Then Libya Africa Investments Company (LAICO) paid KES2.5bn for the luxurious Grand Regency Hotel in a controversial deal which was subject of a commission of inquiry that is yet to present its report. Kimunya has since stepped aside. The Nairobi Star has established that LAICO had also made an attempt to buy retired President Moi’s two beach hotels operated by Africa Safari Club. However, the sale fell through when a major shareholder in the hotels, the family of the late, long serving coastal provincial commissioner Eliud Mahihu, said they were unaware of the impending sell.
Joe Kamau was appointed as special envoy to Libya in 2003. He heads the Kenya Chapter of Libya Arab Invest Portfolio (LAP) which is the holding company of all Libyan investments. This includes Libya Arab Investment Company (LAICO) and Oil Libya. At the height of LAICO’s controversial purchase of Grand Regency, Lands Minister James Orengo claimed that Kenyans were involved in the purchase of the hotel but did not name them. Nairobi Star however revealed two weeks ago that Joe Kamau was the man behind Libyans acquisitions. Kamau together with President Kibaki’s nephew, the late Alex Mureithi, were detailed to seek out Libya’s investment when National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) assumed power in 2003.
This article was republished with kind permission from Nairobi Star.