Controversial city man claims he didn’t smuggle Sh8 billion Congo gold to Nairobi
Updated Friday, August 16th 2013 at 13:40 GMT +3
Few Nairobians knew much about Paul Kobia before March 2011 when a furious President of a troubled neighbouring country made an impromptu visit to Kenya.
What President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) wanted his host President Mwai Kibaki to do was soon apparent: Order the return of 2.5 tonnes of gold worth at least Sh8 billion and arrest those who allegedly smuggled the massive haul from the mineral rich state.
Kabila insisted some of the loot had been freighted from Nairobi to Dubai and South Africa but part of it was in a warehouse in Embakasi.
Prominent among those named in the supposed international smuggling syndicate was Kobia, who until then had only been vaguely mentioned in relation to either the alleged illegal gold trade in Nairobi or a con game hinged on the precious metal.
The man, who UN officials and Kenyan investigators believe also holds a Congolese passport under the name of Ilunga Ngoei (or Paul Ilunga), was reported to have fled to Tanzania. He eventually returned home, but the investigations seemed to have fizzled. Last year a KTN investigative Inside Story /Jicho Pevu series, Blood on Gold/Dhahabu ya Mauti also linked Kobia to a gold con scheme.
This week, Kobia, in a rare media interview, has told The Nairobian that he is a clean man.Â
âI did not steal or smuggle Kabilaâs gold. I am a legitimate businessman,â he says matter-of-factly.
The controversial city man says he trades in gemstones and has invested in real estate.
âI own a lot of property in Embakasi and other parts of the country. All my wealth can be traced. I work hard for my money. It is all legitimate,â insists Kobia, without giving much details.
He believes reports linking him to illegal gold trade are a witch-hunt that have sometimes led to police raids at some of his offices in View Park Towers. He even doubts the authenticity of information released on the supposedly smuggled DRC minerals.
âIf someone had 2.5 tones of gold, would he store it in a ware house in Embakasi?â asks Kobia, alluding to the futile 2011 search by city security agencies at a warehouse.
However clean he may claim to be, Kobia has been treated as a suspect in various investigations and cases. For example, early last year police dropped fraud charges against him after a complainant in the case, said to be linked to Hong Kong-based Meranti Holdings, withdrew from the case.
"The complainant refused to come and we are told he has sworn an affidavit to that effect," said CID head of investigations Mohamed Amin.
Kobia had been arrested and charged on November 2, 2010 with pretending to sell 825kg of gold and obtaining $200,000 (Sh17.4 million at current exchange rate) from a South African Dennis Ray Schmelzenbach.
A UN report last year also linked Kobia to a gold con game and a warehouse at JKIA, which he allegedly used to dupe his victims. The 392-page report also claimed the syndicate ran a gold refinery in Nairobi. Kobia denies all the allegations.
âI honestly have no idea why I am on that list. Nobody asked me anything. I just heard that the UN had mentioned me in a report. But my conscience is clear, I have nothing to hide,â claims Kobia, who also denies that the Banking Fraud Investigation Unit froze his Sh800-million account. Â
Â âThat never happened my friend. If you follow the case, you will realise that the matter was concluded, and somebody (George Mutiso) was charged in court. It wasnât me. My accounts havenât been frozen,â says Kobia.
However, Directorate of Criminal Investigation boss Ndegwa Muhoro told The Nairobian that Kobia and others were not off the hook yet.Â
"For now I can't say that the case has been abandoned. It will depend on the progress and findings of our investigations. The evidence will be crucial," he said.
So who exactly is Paul Kobia? Well, the âexactlyâ part does not come out quite clearly after our interview, but he nonetheless opens a window to his life.
âI am a humble man, who trained as a priest,â claims Kobia. âBut I remain deeply religious.â
For a man who says he left priesthood in Tanzania for the business world, Kobia does not hide the fact that he is doing well. For example, he tells us he once paid Sh16 million in cash for two Range Rovers at a Nairobi car bazaar. He also lays claim to being the first to import an Audi Q7 to Kenya.
Designer suits have replaced the religious robes and instead of a rosary he has a gold chain. He tells us he bought his Dunhill âpure leatherâ belt in Monaco for $320 (Sh27,840). As the interview progresses, it is clear fine single malt whisky has also replaced church wine.
On the Congolese alias, Kobia alleges he was nicknamed Ilunga Ngoei by his friends from DRC because of their respect for him. He claims to have once been involved in legitimately exporting raw copper from DRC to a Chinese firm at a tidy profit.Â
Today, Nairobi-based Congolese refer to Kobia as âPrezdaâ (President), perhaps since he lavishes cash on band members at various city venues whenever he shows up.
Kobia, who says he is so popular in the city that he can walk around âeven in the most dangerous slumâ without a bodyguardâ, admits he has two licensed gun.
âI have never had occasion to draw them or even think of using them. I only applied for the licence because I sometimes carry huge amounts of cash, and I also want to protect my family,â claims Kobia.
Â âOfficiallyâ, he says, his family is made up of one wife and four children but he âtakes care ofâ 10 children in universities and about 40 in various primary and secondary schools.Â
His son Geoffrey âJeffâ Kobia made an unsuccessful bid to be Nairobi Governor in the March 4 elections.
âI spent hundreds of millions but we didnât win because we started campaigns a bit late,â claims Kobia, adding that he plans to spend at least Sh700 million for his sonâs campaigns in the 2017 elections.
He thinks he would have made a good governor for Nairobi, but âI donât have a degree,â which is a requirement. Kobia, however, says Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko is a close friend.
âWe used to share a single room many years back when we were both âhustlersâ,â he says.
As he animatedly waves his left hand, which has a missing finger, we ask the inevitable question. What happened?
âIt wasnât anything close to the rumours about my finger being chopped off by business rivals. I was simply involved in an accident and shrapnel severed my finger. In fact, I have been trying to get the nurse who treated me in a clinic in Huruma so that I can say thanks to her nicely,â claims Kobia, saying he could buy a car for the nurse or pay fees for her children.
For now Paul Kobia says he is minding his business â perhaps in the hope that no furious president, inquisitive cops or nosy UN officials will disturb his peace.