As many questions remain unanswered on the identity of the billionaire millers who brought in the cargo of maize, what is clear is that they have been here before – done that.
When the saga broke, the first name to be mentioned was that of Holbud (UK) Limited as the company that shipped the maize from Mexico.
The last time Holbud was mentioned in Kenya it was about a maize scandal.
That time, in 2004, National Cereals and Produce Board officials had sold maize from the Strategic Grain Reserve to Holbud at “uneconomical prices”, according to a report by the Inspectorate of State Corporations.
Holbud, then, was allocated one million bags — which it sold to Zimbabwe — after then-permanent secretary for Agriculture Shem Migot-Adholla ordered the sale “to offset NCPB’s debt to farmers”.
The report said Holbud had neither asked to buy the maize nor tendered for it.
Interestingly, earlier in 2002, the same firm had been allowed to import more than 16,000 tonnes of maize from Durban, South Africa, when the country faced a crisis similar to the one we are in today.
And now, questions are once again being raised about this company, whose consignment of 29,900 tonnes of maize arrived in Mombasa last week aboard the IVS Pinehurst.
Based in the UK, the company is run by Hasnain Roshanali Merali, David George Rowe, Mahmood Gulamhusein Khaku and Shaukat Akberali Merali.
But according to some court filings — regarding a Holbud ship, the Ya Mawlaya, which had an accident in the US — both Holbud and Hydrey (P) Limited are “related companies controlled by Roshan Merali”.
Thus, Hydrey (P) Limited is of significance. It is associated with Holbud and the two share directors.
While some government officials say Holbud was only a transporter of the cargo, it also named the importers as Kitui Flour Mills, Pembe Flour Mills and Hydrey (P) Limited, meaning that Holbud also brought cargo for its sister company.
Two years ago, Holbud was in the news when the parliamentary Committee on Agriculture was investigating how the company won a Sh6 billion fertiliser tender and the quality of fertiliser brought in.
On the other hand, Kitui Millers is associated with the Salim Taib family, one of the wealthiest families in Mombasa, with an empire straddling East Africa.
Mr Taib is also associated with Pembe Flour Mills, which also shared in the latest maize cargo.
MOMBASA MAIZE MILLERS
The family also owns a mill in Uganda and another in Tanga, Tanzania.
The other beneficiary was Mombasa Maize Millers.
Founded in 1978, it is associated with the family of Mombasa millionaire Mohammed Islam Ali, who established the company with his brother Ahmed Ali.
Not to be left out is Embakasi-based Alpha Grain Millers, whose origin is Moyale, where it started as a distribution company in the 1970s. It is run by businessman Mohamednur Khalif and produces the Kifaru flour brand.
Initial government reports had said that the maize came from Mexico, but when questions were raised about how the IVS Pinehurst managed to sail 17,600 kilometres to Mombasa in just a few days, the story changed and officials said the cargo came from Durban, South Africa.
SOUTH AFRICAN ROUTE
Ships from North America with cargo destined for East Africa use the Mediterranean Sea route rather than the South African route, which is 18,200 kilometres long.
Perhaps the other question was what the ship was doing in Port Louis, Mauritius, on April 19, 2017, as identified on ship-tracking websites, before sailing to Durban and then to Mombasa.
Some pundits have said that the IVS Pinehurst engages in the “blue economy” — a term that refers to ships with cargo in the high seas awaiting a chance to trade.
But the ministry said the maize cargo came from Mexican stocks stored in South Africa, thanks to another company called Inter Africa Grains PTY.
The company’s name was mentioned by Transport Principal Secretary Paul Mwangi, who said the maize was stored in South Africa and that was why the vessel took only five days to get to Mombasa after importers were given the nod to ship it in.
“The white maize was imported to South Africa from Mexico last year when there was a shortage in that country.
"The excess amount was stored in Durban and sold to Kenya from Johannesburg,” Dr Mwangi said in Mombasa.
So what is Inter Africa Grains PTY, which sold the maize?
The firm is registered in Bermuda and is an affiliate of Seaboard Corporation, an American conglomerate based in Kansas that describes itself in its US Securities and Exchange Commission filings as a global agribusiness company.
In Kenya, it owns a 35 per cent stake in Unga Limited and has offices in Mombasa.
US newspapers say its CEO, Steve Bresky, keeps a low profile and has never been interviewed by any media outlet, despite running a global network of flour mills and fruit and vegetable operations.
In a recent profile of Seaboard in the Kansas City Business Journal, the Fortune 500 establishment is described as “the silent giant of the Kansas City business scene”.
“The most interesting thing about Seaboard is how diverse and global they are, how they’re headquartered here, yet they are so unrecognised,” David Gibson, a fourth-generation wheat trader, told the newspaper.
It is not clear whether this is the same company that has shipped another cargo of maize aboard the Interlink Priority, which is expected to arrive in Mombasa with 37,050 tonnes of the grain.
Seaboard owns Unga millers in Uganda and various other milling concerns.