the fabulous fate of the Indian Harish Jagtani and his relatives

Some call Harish Jagtani the “Indian Dan Gertler”, after the sulphurous Israeli businessman, friend of Joseph Kabila. The former head of state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has denied any relationship with this Indian businessman. RFI provides new evidence of this proximity and has continued its investigation. Not only has Mr. Jagtani built an empire in the land of Joseph Kabila in less than 15 years, but his family and associates now have significant assets in the Congo, as abroad, and have come to join forces to the biggest groups like the American Hilton and the French Accor.

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On October 28, 2015, Harish Jagtani celebrates its fortieth anniversary in style. The businessman decided to celebrate it in India, his country of origin, in his luxurious residence in Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan. The millionaire named it “LV” in tribute to Louis Vuitton, one of his favorite luxury brands. However, it is not Mr. Jagtani who is the center of attention. The guest of honor is Olive Lembe di Sita, first lady of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It is in this tumultuous Central African country that the Indian businessman has lived for twenty years and made his fortune under the presidency of the husband of “Maman Olive”, Joseph Kabila, who came to power in 2001. .

► Also read: Harish Jagtani, the Indian businessman “ friend »Kabila ?

In the photos of the event, Olive Lembe di Sita is dressed in a sumptuous white dress and seems to love the couple, young, rich like her. “ Harish seduces with his very polite manners and his ambitious projects “Says a Congolese businessman annoyed by Mr. Jagtani’s success. A dozen photos obtained by Radio France Internationale (RFI) attest to the warm relationships between the couple of Indian millionaires and the wife of Joseph Kabila. The now former head of state does not appear in any image. After the publication of our first survey, he denied, through the voice of his project manager, any relationship with this businessman today at the heart of several scandals.

Olive Lembe di Sita (l.), Wife of Joseph Kabila, and Sunita “Neha” Jagtani (d.), Wife of Harish Jagtani, posing with a painting containing a series of photos. Facebook / Neha Harry Jagtani

Harish Jagtani’s Modern Construction has benefited from an over-the-counter market that has become controversial. In the midst of an economic crisis, the Senate, chaired by someone close to Mr. Kabila, spent $ 4 million, outside the budget, to renovate its plenary hall. In Kinshasa, the capital, residents often attribute some of the towers built by Harish Jagtani and his construction companies to the former presidential couple, such as the Kiyo Ya Sita tower. It was baptized thus, they say, in homage to Olive Lembe di Sita. Questioned by RFI, the former first lady’s communications advisor assured her: “ Its investment is in agriculture and cattle breeding.

Harish Jagtani, friend of the former first lady

On this October 28, 2015, Harish Jagtani smiles. He has reason to rejoice. At 40, he heads the largest air cargo company in this huge Central African country: Services Air, now called Serve Air Cargo. The DRC is in dire need of infrastructure and customers are jostling. They are Congolese state institutions as well as international NGOs and UN agencies, such as the World Food Program and Unicef.

Mr. Jagtani also heads at least three construction companies that multiply major real estate projects in Kinshasa. The Congolese capital is experiencing an unprecedented real estate fever in the midst of a political crisis. Olive Lembe di Sita’s husband Joseph Kabila is due to complete his second and final term the following year. The opposition has already started demonstrating to demand that the elections be held within the time limits provided for in the Constitution. Paradoxically, despite the uncertainty, money is flowing. Towers, luxury residences and shopping centers grow in the most upscale communes of the Congolese capital.

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The Empire of Harish Jagtani. RFI / Computer graphics service

The story of Harish Jagtani is the fabulous destiny of an Indian immigrant, an employee who became a multimillionaire after ten difficult years in a country at war. When Harish Jagtani arrived in Kinshasa in 1995, he did not rub shoulders with the highest figures in the state. Above all, he seems to depend on the generosity of a compatriot, Parmanand Daswani, an Indian importer whom he presents as his uncle and who sails between the two banks of the imposing Congo River. Mr. Daswani is known in the Great Lakes region for two reasons. He is now the Honorary Consul of India in Brazzaville, but he is also the head of Gay Impex and its subsidiary, the Régal supermarket chain, present in the DRC and the Republic of Congo. But Gay Impex is still a modest enterprise when the very young Harish, barely 20 years old, goes to do his first classes there. He spent five years there, between 1996 and 2001, can we learn from a biography Lumumba papers , this unprecedented leak of bank documents in the DRC that we owe to Jean-Jacques Lumumba, alert launcher, former banker and grand nephew of Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba.

Gay Impex will be legally incorporated in Congo in 2006 and will experience significant growth under the presidency of Joseph Kabila, but probably less than that of companies close to Harish Jagtani over the past decade. RFI was able to reconstruct part of this success story worthy of a Bollywood film thanks to the Lumumba Papers, other confidential documents, including banking, and public sources, as well as multiple interviews with former employees, relatives and rivals of Mr. Jagtani.

A family of Indian immigrants who became a millionaire

Under the presidency of Joseph Kabila, Harish Jagtani was not the only one to make a fortune. At least on paper, his entire circle benefits. “ Her mother was a teacher in India, she still lives there. His father died when he was young Says a familiar to the Indian businessman. The mother, Neeta Jagtani, probably no longer frequents the corridors of her school. With Sunita, son Harish’s wife, she’s running at least one real estate megaproject in Jaipur. According to the Rajasthan property regulatory authority, the two women are directors of Shiv Sital Builders Private Limited, developer of Sapphire, a luxury ten-story residence with a swimming pool and rooftop gardens. This company presents itself to interested investors as “ one of the leading real estate development companies in India, pioneer in the Democratic Republic of Congo “Founded in 2007 by the” international construction tycoon Harish Jagtani

However, at that time, Harish Jagtani was best known in the Congo as the Indian boss of the Congolese airline Services Air. It was just mentioned once that year in the columns of an Indian daily newspaper as a native who aspired to build a dolphin park in the Rajasthan desert. But this project never saw the light of day.

When Shiv Sital Builders Private Limited is questioned about the other luxury real estate residences in India mentioned as completed on its site, they are always unavailable. But the manager, Ajay Singh, promises to “ very soon “The start of work on a megaproject” Big times », Four semi-luxury residential towers, with 296 apartments on a plot of 8,300 m² in Jaipur. The Indian businessman created with relatives in the 2010s dozens of companies in his country of origin. Their official purpose is to operate in the construction, hotel, real estate and even health sectors, but most of them do not even have a website.

$ 20 million paid back in just three years

It was in these same sectors that Harish Jagtani made his fortune in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the information which he himself provided in 2014 to one of his banks and which RFI obtained, he cumulated that year with his three construction companies eight real estate projects completed or in progress in Kinshasa for an amount of 112 .5 million dollars. The Indian businessman claims to have no more than $ 5 million in loans from two banks, BIAC and Rawbank. According to another bank document, from the Lumumba papers, another line of credit had been opened in 2011 for $ 20 million at BGFI Bank, a bank managed by a member of Joseph Kabila’s family, but in 2014, this amount has already been fully reimbursed.

That year, its Air Cargo company Services Air had $ 5 million in assets and more than $ 35 million in annual turnover. But the highly productive Indian businessman embarks on the construction of a modern hospital in Kinshasa. Also according to this confidential bank document, to finance HJ Hospitals – today one of the main private hospitals in Kinshasa -, Harish Jagtani counted on five million dollars in loan on the 19.8 million initial investment, he had to – even finance the remaining 14.5 million on equity and had given as collateral a land estimated at more than 6 million dollars. “ He may have applied for loans in other banks, but this gentleman Jagtani never ran out of cash “Insists his former banker and whistleblower Jean-Jacques Lumumba, who suspects like other bankers and businessmen in Kinshasa of illicit operations. “ When he went into commission to get the loan of 5 millions, he had already bought most of the equipment. He didn’t need us to finance this operation.

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Harish Jagtani’s family. RFI / Computer graphics service

The desire to operate prestigious partnerships

Harish Jagtani tries to seduce beyond the borders of the Congo. But he struggles to interest the big brands in his real estate projects in Kinshasa. One of his biggest catches is to have signed in 2019, the day after the election of Félix Tshisekedi, a partnership with the luxury hotel chain Hilton, which has however long hesitated to associate with him . This American multinational should open by the end of 2021 a hotel in one of the buildings of the Indian businessman, the Congo Trade Center (CTC), the largest commercial and residential center of Kinshasa ideally located on the banks. of the Congo River. Others have given up on associating with it. “ Harish is smart and good company “Comments a foreign businessman who once had views of the CLC shops. “ Harish is not short of money, wants to go fast, but does not have all the documentation necessary to inspire confidence in the brands installed.

The foreign businessman takes the example of the Congo Trade Center shopping mall, completed before he even contacted his future customers. “ Which entrepreneur has such a project and is thinking of bringing brands after? He wondered again years later. “ The major brands have fairly uniform stores worldwide and any promoter knows this, these steps must be taken beforehand if they want to make their project profitable. “A Congolese operator also wonders about the reasons for the success of this rival’s economic model” when half of the apartments are empty ” “ I too had tried to get started, but at an occupancy rate of less than 75% over ten years, that did not make the initial investment profitable, if of course we take into account the payment of bank interest and taxes.

Since the controversy over the renovation of the Senate plenary hall, press articles relating to Mr. Jagtani’s management practices have multiplied, but do not seem to worry the American multinational Hilton. Asked by RFI about research carried out on the liabilities of businessmen and companies with which it associates, a spokesperson for Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc assures that the large American group has ” evidence of due diligence […] to confirm ownership structure And that its internal procedures comply with rules imposed by the United States Department of Justice and other regulatory authority. Like any American company, the Hilton chain is subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which prohibits it from associating itself with any act of direct or indirect bribery of a foreign public official.

“Kenny” Rawtani, from tailor to millionaire

The Jagtani clan probably has more than a millionaire today. Harish’s brother-in-law, Kamal “Kenny” Rawtani, too, has impressed with the multiplication of his assets over the past ten years. “ We remember him as a little tailor who came to our house with his suitcase to make us costumes that cost a few hundred dollars at the time. Plague a rival. Today, the “ small tailor “Is the head of a holding company, Kenny’s International, which has 15 stores in nine countries. He claims possession of at least two buildings, R R House and Casa Savi, in the heart of Kinshasa, runs several of the most famous restaurants and clubs: K Lounge, Millionnaire Club, L’Olive Verte, Fusion…

He also has a travel agency, Miles Travels, but also a construction company, Sokerico. He is one of the main partners of the discreet Milano company created in Kinshasa in 2005. At least one luxury boutique with the same name and a logo similar to that of Kenny’s international exists in Luanda, in neighboring Angola. In 2017, his main partner, Ritesh Hemnani, had been kidnapped and kidnapped for 18 days, his kidnappers, Congolese, Cameroonian and Mozambican, had asked his relatives for more than $ 2 million in ransom. He ended up being released by the Congolese police.

Partner cited in Panama Papers

Harish Jagtani has long had as a main partner a certain Sajid Umelada Dhrolia, even if for a little over a year, relations between the two men seem to have been strained, according to relatives. It is together that they founded Modern Construction in 2009, they are both among the main shareholders, according to the statutes of the company published in the Official Journal in 2012. Mr. Dhrolia always presented himself as “director” of this company in 2016 when his name is mentioned in the context of revelations related to “ Panama Papers “, This unprecedented leak of confidential documents from offshore companies.

The investigation is coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). She does not mention Harish Jagtani, but establishes connections between Sajid Dhrolia and two other Indians who have long operated in Kinshasa, Salim Anwerali Kamani and Nazim Sadrudin Charaniya. All three have ties to a company based in the British Virgin Islands, Sanzi Holding Limited. “ Some of them hadn’t been in the Congo for a long time, but when they were mentioned in the Panama Papers, it was still a shock “Explains a member of the Indian community of Kinshasa.

The news may be shocking because the use of such companies based in tax havens is often equated with shady practices ranging from tax evasion to money laundering. The anonymity of the true beneficiaries of Sanzi Holding Limited is guaranteed, but the British Virgin Islands and their followers often justify this opacity by confidentiality requirements.

The “ Lumumba Papers “May help lift some of this veil of opacity. When Mr. Jagtani presented himself at the beginning of the 2010s to banking establishments in Kinshasa to obtain loans, he said he was a shareholder of a “Sanzi Group” which would have “ points of sale in Angola (48), Cameroon, Namibia and of course in the DRC ” According to the cross-checking carried out by RFI, this group is today presented under the name ” SNS Group ” With its subsidiary, Noble Group SA, it has become one of the largest importers in Angola and owns the supermarket chain Angola Mart and other companies, notably in India and Dubai. In 2010, this group already had more than $ 730 million in annual turnover, according to one of its executives.

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Harish Jagtani and his associates. RFI / Computer graphics service

Sajid Dhrolia is barely older than Harish Jagtani and his background is quite similar. Born June 3, 1971, he himself assures BGFI Bank that he completed his graduate studies in Business Communications at the University of Bombay in 1995 and emigrated shortly thereafter to the DRC. He founded a small Sajico import-export company which would register as a representative of then little known Indian brands, Lasam’s or Champion Whiskey. With Kin Marché and its two points of sale in the Congolese capital, Sajid Dhrolia remains almost unknown to the general public in the Congo, more discreet than his ex-friend Harish, he leaves only a few written traces behind him.

Companies based in tax havens

As Harish Jagtani, “Saju”, as Congolese business and political circles call it, is one of the greatest architects of the luxury real estate boom of recent years. With one of his companies, the Compagnie hôtelière et immobilière du Congo (CHIC), in September 2019 he managed to sign a partnership with another prestigious hotel chain, the French Accor, to open three hotels in Kinshasa and in the two mining towns, Lubumbashi and Kolwezi.

His name appears as the representative of one of the two shareholder companies, Galmington Holdings Limited, a company based in the British Virgin Islands. According to the constituting act of CHIC dated December 19, 2017, for this major operation, Sajid Dhrolia has poached Chug Chaitanya, one of the main partners of one of his cousins, Rahim Dhrolia, a very influential businessman in the former province of Katanga. Chug Chaitanya represents CAPS Holding Limited, a company based in Seychelles, which is also considered by the European Union as a tax haven.

This opacity does not seem to have put off the French group Accor. Questioned by RFI, he claims to have carried out ” thorough due diligence on potential owners and their shareholders ” This investigation would not have revealed “ no warning signal or risk ” The three hotels are scheduled to open in December 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively.

That’s not all. Sajid Dhrolia is also, according to several sources, behind another heavyweight in the sector: Safricode. “Saju” relied this time on a more well-known and respected Indian entrepreneur: Alu Rahi Manji and his company Devimco, which has long experienced liquidity problems. According to its website, Safricode was created in 2014 by Devimco and another A One Construction company attributed to Mr. Dhrolia. In barely six years of existence, Safricode announces that it will have to carry out five luxury residential and commercial projects in Kinshasa, including the Panoramique, a building of twenty-four apartments, with infinity pool, jacuzzi, sauna, gymnasium, hall of games, two huge terraces with a breathtaking view of Kinshasa ” And much more “Promises his website. The villas of his residence La Promenade have made people happy among members of the cabinet of the new head of state, according to sources close to the businessman and internal to the Presidency. ” I have the same salary as them, I could never have bought a house there One of these sources is surprised.

Frustration of the Congolese business community

The successes of “Harish” and “Saju” make jealous in all communities, but especially among Congolese businessmen who are annoyed to see the most important infrastructure projects carried out by foreigners. ” When you are Congolese and want to do business in Congo, it is difficult to have access to capital and bank guarantees. Even banks are mostly run by foreigners with interests in the Congo “Laments a Congolese entrepreneur. “ When a head of state comes to power and says he is going to create Congolese millionaires, I laugh. “For this entrepreneur, the explanation is simple:” Congolese politician “Can hardly open an account” in Europe or elsewhere ” To invest his illegally acquired money, “he” cannot ally himself with the Congolese ” for confidentiality reasons

Right of reply

Harish Jagtani has not followed up on any questions regarding this investigation at this time. Through his lawyers, the Indian businessman responded on May 21, 2020 to information in the investigation released on May 7, 2020.

In this context, Mr. Jagtani affirms that he ” is not a close relation nor an intermediary for the former president of the Republic, Joseph Kabila, whom he does not know personally ” He denies ” be the financial backer for any high profile person

He also explains that his company Modern Construction ” has been active since 2007 and has to his credit for more than 20 completed projects and 5 in progress ” The Kiyo Ya Sita Tower “ does not, as suggested, belong to the former presidential family

Regarding the renovation contract for the plenary hall of the Senate, Mr. Jagtani underlines that he ” has been strictly enforced the regulations on public procurement ” The Indian businessman assures us that these works have not been overcharged and that they remain “unpaid to date

Read Mr. Jagtani’s full right of reply.

MM. Sajid Dhrolia, Kamal Rawtani and Parmanand Daswani remained unreachable and did not follow up on RFI’s questions.

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