Following his death last week, many Kenyans were surprised to discover that multi-billionaire industrialist Chris Kirubi was an honorary consul of Mauritius in Kenya.
But it is hardly surprising; the tiny Indian Ocean nation is one of the world’s most notorious tax-havens.
As a secrecy jurisdiction, the world’s super-rich stash their wealth there, and shell companies exist in plenty.
Kirubi, who died aged 80, was for decades a shrewd businessman who created an empire cutting across diverse sectors, including manufacturing, real estate, media and technology.
With a $300 million (Sh32 billion) net worth, according to Forbes, he ranked among Africa’s richest individuals and had the ear of presidents (who give consul appointments) and the movers and shakers on the continent.
Kirubi was a big investor in Mauritius with Centum – one of his firms – having ties there in a bid to lessen its tax burden.
Executive Director of Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA) Alvin Mosioma said “it was not a coincidence” that Kirubi was the Honorary Consul of Mauritius in Kenya.
“Mauritius must have provided a great hideout for the illicitly acquired wealth for him and high ranking government officials,” he said. Kirubi once served in top positions at fallen State institutions such as Kenatco and Uchumi Supermarkets. Over the years, he denied that a chunk of his wealth was gotten from looting the parastatals.
“Such a privilege (honorary consul) must have given him the protection he needed to hide his wealth,” added Mosioma.
Over the last few years, Kirubi has significantly grown his wealth. In 2019, he earned $7 million (Sh749 million) from selling the BiC brands East Africa (under Haco Industries) franchise to French Conglomerate Société BIC.
In 2018, he made $2.3 million (Sh246 million) in dividends alone from his stake in Centum.
His other firms, such as ICT solutions provider Smart Applications, have continued to expand, recently entering the Malawi market.
Centum chief executive James Mworia told The Standard that consul positions were given by the presidents of various countries based on his vast business influence.
“He was asked by the presidents to serve,” said Mworia in a candid interview on Kirubi’s legacy last week.
“He’s a major investor in Mauritius, and they thought he’s a man who could represent the aspirations of a country.”
Before the Mauritius job, Kirubi had also served as the Honorary Consul for Ghana in Kenya. Ghana has over the years risen to become an offshore financial centre in West Africa.
Mworia also said Kirubi was an adviser to the heads of states of the two countries. He was also a prominent part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s business delegations abroad to attract foreign investors.
“He was previously the honorary consul for Ghana and he was an adviser to the (former) president of Ghana John Kufuor. Kufuor asked him before they had an embassy here to be the honorary consul. When his term ended and they established an embassy, Mauritius then asked him to be the honorary consul,” he said.
The Mauritius Consulate was housed at his International House in the city centre. He had a direct line to the Mauritius government and monitored their interests across the region with Kenya being East Africa’s largest economy.
The government of Mauritius represented by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Economic Development Board sent letters of condolences buttressing Kirubi’s commitment to bilateral ties.
“He will be remembered vividly for his contribution to the service of the Republic of Mauritius. He served Mauritius tirelessly and with distinction during his tenure in office,” said the ministry.
In 2011, it emerged that Centum incorporated two subsidiaries in Mauritius to enable the firm’s diversification into new regions. Mauritius has double tax agreements with many countries, including Kenya.
Kirubi, a Harvard Business School alumnus, was also the chairman of Haco Tiger Brands Kenya, Capital Media Group, International House Ltd, DHL Worldwide Express Ltd, Nairobi Bottlers and Smart Applications International Ltd. He was also the deputy chairman of agrochemical firm Bayer East Africa Ltd.
A consul is described as an official appointed by a State to live in a foreign city in order to protect that particular State’s interests and those of its citizens living in the foreign city.
Dr Kigen Morumbasi, who teaches International Relations and Security at Strathmore University, explained that such a position is given by presidents and the holders are not necessarily career diplomats. He added that countries have either a consulate or a fully-fledged embassy, a decision which is determined by the seniority of the head of mission and the strategic importance of a country.