EXCLUSIVE: The Untouchable Rai Business Moguls

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Tajveer Rai (L) & Jaswant Rai (R)

Queries are erupting whether the powerful and dreaded business Moghuls of the Rai family are going to pay for their sins and wrongs at long last.

Whether they are going to be held responsible and accountable for their deeds in western Kenya?
The Rai’s rise to power and business Moghuls with powerful political connections came from the Eldoret based multi-billion shillings Rai Plywoods timber Company, a company that ruthlessly and systematically whittled and down the multi-billion shillings Pan-Paper Mills based in Webuye Town of Bungoma County.

The Pan-Paper Mills a World Bank supported project was the largest paper manufacturing plant from pulped trees and a major competitor for Rai Ply whose core business was timber of course from trees – therefore stiff competition for a scarce raw material being less than 100 kilometres apart in Webuye and Eldoret.

A company that only last year the same family bought for a song Kshs. 900 million when its worth is estimated to have been Kshs. 18 billion with accumulated debts of Kshs. 10 billion that had brought its operations to its knees – Pan Paper was placed under receivership in 2009.

It must not be forgotten that after buying Pan Paper, perhaps as a show of the family’s continuing political might, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto a neighbor to Eldoret town were the official guests to preside over its re-opening only for the factory to close down less than 24 hours later to date.

It was from its Eldoret base that the Rai Moghuls secured close ties with retired President Daniel Arap Moi himself and virtually every power broker at the helm during his reign. That meant securing highly lucrative business deals with assured government protection to amass massive wealth.

Somehow the Moghuls were able to successfully navigate through the two terms of the retired President Mwai Kibaki into the current President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first and second terms as some of the most powerful “untouchables” in the country pulling strings at high places in virtually every government office.

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It was from this background that they eventually ventured into the sugar manufacturing industry when they bought the West Kenya Sugar factory in Kabras area of Kakamega County in Western Kenya from the family of the late previous owner Biku Patel.

With that purchase doom appears to have been spelt for the ailing giant Mumias Sugar Company, the immediate neighbor in Kabras area of Kakamega County, Butali Sugar Company, Bungoma’s Nzoia Sugar Company and the worst for Busia County that for the first time was about to be graced with a sugar factory known as Busia Sugar Industries.

That was the beginning of the worst phenomenon that the sugar industry in the country had never experienced since it was first introduced in the colonial days – the emergence of sugarcane poaching crisis that has virtually brought the sugar industry in Western Kenta to a standstill with lives lost to boot.

What has clearly emerged is the fact that whittle down the competitors systematically and ruthlessly bring them to a total still like Webuye’s Pan Paper Mills then break in to buy the beleaguered companies at throw away prices – once in control dictate to the farmers who are the suppliers of the raw material that is the only cash crop and economic backbone of the region.

The Rai Group’s deliberately executed overt and covert economic subversive or sabotage operations against these entities as they muscle to gain control have in the recent years been widely reported not only by the regional but also by the national and international media outlets – they are yet to rest since the government has done nothing to bring an end to the most critical factor of the continuing wars that is to end cane poaching.

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The Rai family is in the limelight once again after buying troubled Pan Paper Mills in Webuye for Sh900 million. Pan Paper is worth Sh18 billion, but it was indebted to the tune of Sh10 billion by the time it was placed under receivership in 2009.

As at the beginning of the year 2000, the Rai’s were locked in bitter legal battles over business ownership as they had attempted to lock their partners out the multi-billion shillings entities involved on the Rai side were Jasbir Singh Rai, Iqbal Singh Sai, Daljiti Kaur Hans and Sarjit Kaur Rai.

They were pitted against Tarlochan Singh Rai as the first respondent, Jaswant Singh Rai 2nd respondent, Sarbjit Singh Rai 3rd respondent, Rai Investments Limited 4th respondent, Rai Plywoods (Kenya) Limited 5th respondent, Rai products limited 6th respondent and Rai holdings limited 7th respondent.

The others were Tulip Properties Limited 8th respondent, The Rai Expo Park Limited 9th respondent, Tarlochan Singh Rai Limited 10th respondent, Satjit Singh & Ram Singh (Estate of) 11th respondent, PBM Nominees Limited 12th respondent, Kabarak Limited 13th respondent and Suresh Kumar Bector 14th respondent.
The other five companies that were supposed to be enjoined in the suit as respondents were Rai Products Limited, Rai Holdings Limited, Tulip Properties Limited, Rai Expo Park Limited and Tarlochan Singh Rai Limited.

The Rai Group known as RaiPly, makers of chip boards, ceilings, block boards, parquet and wooden tiles and polythene bags for sugar companies. The group is Kenya’s largest agro-forestry concern. It has spread its plywood wings to Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi – where it’s the biggest wood processor.

Rai Group is also Kenya’s second largest sugar miller through its West Kenya Sugar and Sukari Industries subsidiaries in Homa Bay. It is also Uganda’s second largest miller through Kinyara Sugar Works, besides having interests in edible oils, fats and soaps (Menengai Oil Refineries), saw milling (Timsales), wheat farming, horticulture and real estate (Tulip Properties).

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Tarlochan Singh Rai: The patriarch, alongside his siblings, had farming interests through Rai Brothers after buying tea and coffee estates in Zaire (now DR Congo) from Belgians who were leaving in 1963. In Kenya, he owned Rai Agricultural Estates, which was making tea chests for Rai Brothers, which was sold in 1969.

The proceeds went into incorporating Rai Timber into RaiPly with his four sons; Jaswant, Jasbir, Sarbjit and Iqbal Rai in 1971.

Sarjit Kaur Rai: The wife of Tarlochan owns 25 per cent in Lukenya Flowers. Together with sons Jasbir, Iqbal and daughter Daljit Kaur Hans, she sued her hubby and sons Jaswant and Sarbjit over fortunes in a family dispute that lasted 14 years to 2013 when the Supreme Court dismissed the case.

Jaswant Rai: The chair of Rai Group, ran Rai Products, which sold stuff for RaiPly on credit. Alongside his father, Jaswant was the largest shareholder of Rai Products and Rai Investments. His mother, Sarjit sued both for allegedly salting away fortunes from Rai Products and investing them without consulting other members despite a 1977/78 verbal agreement that all Rai fortunes were co-owned by all family members.

Jasbir Rai: Formed Wood Panels Ltd to market RaiPly products in 1993, thus snatching business from Rai Products. With brother Sarbjit, they co-own the Kshs. 250 million Nile Plywoods (Uganda Ltd) and half of the Kshs. 350 million Polypack Ltd in Kenya. Both ventures are bankrolled by their old guy’s RaiPly funds.

Tajveer Rai: Alumnus of City University, London, is a safari rally buff and MD of West Kenya Sugar Ltd.

Onkar Rai: The two-time Division Two local Safari Rally champ is brother to Tajveer and MD, of Menengai Oil Refineries. When he wed his sweetheart, Damneet at Nairobi’s Simba Union Club in December 2015, he drove himself in a Porsche 911 GT3!

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