Meet the billionaire conned by “fake Uhuru”; he is a business partner to the Kenyatta family

He once made Sh20 billion in one hour

The adage, still waters run deep, is one that succinctly describes the life on Nairobi billionaire Naushad Merali – the Chairman of the Sameer Investment Group.

Prior to Monday’s court case where Merali accused some men of conning him Sh10 million by mimicking President Uhuru Kenyatta’s voice, few Kenyans knew that the Sameer Group boss is one of the richest men in Africa.

In 2014, Forbes named the tycoon as the 39th richest African with an empire worth Sh55 billion (Sh500 million).

Other Kenyans who have appeared in the list include President Kenyatta (Sh50 billion as of 2011), industrialist Chris Kirubi (Sh30 billion as of 2011), Bidco Oil’s Vimal Shah (160 billion as at 2013), and his father Bhimji Depar Shah (Sh 70 billion as of 2014).

Merali has in the past three decades built a formidable empire through a combination of entrepreneurial skills and strategic political networks.

He was a close associate of former President Daniel arap Moi and his family.

So close was President Moi to the billionaire that he would find time to occasionally attend staff parties at companies owned by Merali.

Merali links with President Kibaki

He remains a business associate of former President Mwai Kibaki’s family. Kibaki’s Sh500 million retirement home in Mweiga was built on a 1000-acre farm donated by Sasini tea where Merali is the board chairman.

The Sameer Group tycoon is also a business associate of the Kenyatta family having a 5.6 percent stake in CBA – a local bank where the First family has majority shares.

Merali’s shrewdness in the corporate boardroom deals is best illustrated by an incident that happened on May 31st 2004.

At the time, the Sameer Group boss owned 40 per cent of KenCell (now Airtel), with French firm Vivendi owning 60 per cent.

When Kencell started trolling Safaricom in the early years of mobile phone adoption, Vivendi decided to call it quits and Merali convinced Vivendi to sell him its 60 per cent stake in KenCell for Sh23 billion.

An hour after the tycoon had bought Vivendi’s stake, he flipped it to Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim’s Africa-focused Celtel for Sh25 billion, earning Merali a cool Sh2 billion in about 60 minutes.

How such a smart businessman transferred Sh10 million to conmen pretending to be President Kenyatta remains a puzzle that industry players will grapple with in the days to come.

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