Among the politicians waving flags on the stairs of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands, on a cold October morning in 2013 — when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were summoned by the court — was a man who went almost unnoticed.
Standing next to National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale and Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi was Zaheer Merhali Jhanda, who watched in glee as the rest of the high-powered delegation from Kenya sang in support of the President and his deputy.
Mr Jhanda had, six months before The Hague visit, vied for — and lost — the Nyaribari Chache seat on a Jubilee Party ticket. But despite the loss, his friendship with the top leadership of the party remained intact.
It still is, even though he soon afterwards defected to the Wiper Democratic Movement and vied for the same seat in the 2017 elections — which he also lost despite running a well-oiled campaign machine against Mr Richard Tongi.
“Mheshimiwa, kusema na kutenda,” one of his followers remarked on Facebook after Mr Jhanda posted the famous photo from The Hague in 2013.
The tag ‘mheshimiwa’ stuck on the man from Kisii, whose preferred mode of travel is a helicopter or the latest issue of the Lexus LX570.
His love for celebrity life was probably exhibited best when he married socialite Faith Makau, alias Amber Ray, in 2016. Their union provided endless fodder for bloggers.
The teetotaller has never been afraid of letting the internet know how much money he has, as he likes to pose behind mountains of wads of notes running into tens of millions of shillings.
These millions are regularly donated to various causes during fundraisers in Kisii, where he enjoys celebrity status.
It’s here, after all, where he started out as an event organiser about 20 years ago, then barely out of his teens. His family, which has Arab roots, has run businesses in Kisii town for a long time.
As a showbiz player in the early 2000s, Mr Jhanda shifted his base to Nairobi about 10 years ago, seeking the right connections for the celebrity image he wanted to cultivate.
Within no time, he struck friendships with the cronies of politicians, and soon the politicians themselves.
From then on, he was unstoppable, until earlier this year, when he became the centre of a complex gold fraud in which a Saudi royal was conned of Sh250 million.
The fraudsters were so bold that they impersonated a powerful Cabinet secretary, whom they claimed was in a position to release the gold consignment.
The rubber, however, met the road when the victims, through officials of the United Arab Emirates, wrote a complaint to the CS asking him to release the gold promptly.
Also linked to the scam is Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula, who was on Tuesday quoted denying involvement and lamenting the politicisation of the matter.
Mr Wetang’ula’s aide, Chris Mandu, told People Daily on Monday that the scam was a business deal gone sour, but is now being peddled by the senator’s business partners who also lost money in the transaction.
“It’s very unfortunate that some people are now trying to politicise the whole matter in which the senator lost huge amounts of money,” Mr Mandu said.
Mr Wetang’ula has not responded to our calls or texts on the matter since it broke out.
However, Mr Jhanda, who had approached the Nation in February over the gold, is said to be so connected that detectives fear that despite his recent run-ins with the law, apprehending him could open a Pandora’s box that few in high places would be comfortable with.
In February, Mr Jhanda made headlines after the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) blocked the National Land Commission (NLC) from paying out Sh787 million to a church in Ongata Rongai as compensation for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line passing through the church’s land.
The land, which is owned by Clarence Matheny Leadership and Training Institute, was initially valued at Sh600 million, but when Mr Jhanda came in as a negotiating consultant, the value shot up to Sh927 million.
For his negotiation skills with the NLC, he was poised to receive Sh141 million from the payout when detectives spoilt the party.
Had all gone according to plan, it would have been the single largest payout for land from the SGR budget.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said the whole plot, which is still under investigation, is “marred by allegations of corruption and impropriety”.
But as flamboyant as he is wealthy, Mr Jhanda, whose top academic qualification is a Form Four certificate, is equally politically and financially connected.
He counts Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi and flamboyant Kisii businessman Don Bosco Gichana as his in-laws.
Mr Gichana, famous for donating a Hummer vehicle to Mr Odinga during the 2007 elections, was released from a prison in Tanzania in November last year after pleading guilty to money laundering charges.
He served a five-year jail term and paid a fine of Sh13.7 million.
On Mr Jhanda’s Facebook page are several photos of him with DP Ruto on the campaign trail from as early as 2012.
He also has photos of him with President Kenyatta, opposition leader Raila Odinga, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Wetang’ula, ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru and former Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim, among others.