Some call Harish Jagtani the “Indian Dan Gertler”, named after this sulphurous Israeli businessman, friend of Joseph Kabila. The former head of state of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has denied any relationship with this Indian businessman. RFI provides new evidence of this proximity and continued its investigation. Not only has Mr. Jagtani built an empire in the land of Joseph Kabila in less than 15 years, but his family and his associates today own significant assets in Congo, as well as abroad, and have managed to associate to the biggest groups like the American Hilton and the French Accor.

On October 28, 2015, Harish Jagtani celebrates his fortieth birthday with pomp. The businessman decided to celebrate it in India, his country of origin, in his luxurious residence in Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan. The millionaire named it “LV”, in homage to Louis Vuitton, one of his favorite luxury brands. However, it is not Mr. Jagtani who is the center of attention. The guest of honor is Olive Lembe di Sita, first lady of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is in this Central African country with a tumultuous history that the Indian businessman has lived for twenty years and made his fortune under the presidency of the husband of “Maman Olive”, Joseph Kabila, who came to power in 2001.

The couple Harish Jagtani and Sunita "Neha" Jagtani at a party with Olive Lembe di Sita, Joseph Kabila's wife, by their side. Facebook/Neha Harry Jagtani

In the photos of the event, Olive Lembe di Sita is dressed in a sumptuous white dress and seems to love the couple, young, rich like her. “  Harish seduces with his very polished manners and his ambitious projects  ,” explains a Congolese businessman annoyed by Mr. Jagtani’s successes. A dozen shots obtained by Radio France Internationale (RFI) attest to the warm relationship maintained between the couple of Indian millionaires and the wife of Joseph Kabila. The now former head of state does not appear in any image. After the publication of our first investigation, he denied , through the voice of his project manager, any relationship with this businessman today at the heart of several scandals.

Olive Lembe di Sita (l.), wife of Joseph Kabila, and Sunita "Neha" Jagtani (r.), wife of Harish Jagtani, posing with a painting containing a series of photos together. Facebook/Neha Harry Jagtani

Harish Jagtani’s Modern Construction company benefited from an over-the-counter market that has become controversial. In the midst of an economic crisis, the Senate, chaired by a close associate of Mr. Kabila, spent 4 million dollars, off budget, to renovate its plenary room. In Kinshasa, the capital, residents often attribute some of the towers built by Harish Jagtani and his construction companies to the former presidential couple, such as the Kiyo Ya Sita tower. It was baptized thus, they say, in homage to Olive Lembe di Sita. Asked by RFI, the communication advisor to the former first lady assures her: “  His investment is in agriculture and in the breeding of cattle. » 

Harish Jagtani, the former first lady’s friend

On this October 28, 2015, Harish Jagtani is smiling. He has reason to rejoice. At 40, he is the head of the largest air cargo company in this huge Central African country: Services Air, now called Serve Air Cargo. The DRC is sorely lacking in infrastructure and customers are jostling. These include Congolese state institutions as well as international NGOs and UN agencies, such as the World Food Program and Unicef.

Mr. Jagtani also directs at least three construction companies which are multiplying major real estate projects in Kinshasa. The Congolese capital is experiencing an unprecedented real estate fever in the midst of a political crisis. Olive Lembe di Sita’s husband, Joseph Kabila, is due to complete his second and final term the following year. The opposition has already begun to demonstrate to demand the holding of elections within the time limits provided for by the Constitution. Paradoxically, despite the uncertainty, the money is flowing. Towers, luxury residences and shopping centers are springing up in the most upscale communes of the Congolese capital.

The story of Harish Jagtani is the fabulous destiny of an Indian immigrant, an employee who became a multimillionaire after ten difficult years in a country at war. When Harish Jagtani arrived in Kinshasa in 1995, he did not mix with the highest figures in the state. Above all, he seems to depend on the generosity of a compatriot, Parmanand Daswani, an Indian importer whom he presents as his uncle and who sails between the two banks of the imposing Congo River. Mr. Daswani is known in the Great Lakes region for two reasons. He is now the honorary consul of India in Brazzaville, but he is also at the head of Gay Impex and its subsidiary, the Régal supermarket chain, present in the DRC and the Republic of Congo. But Gay Impex is still a modest company when the very young Harish, barely 20 years old, goes to do his first classes there.”  Lumumba papers  “ , this unprecedented leak of bank documents in the DRC that we owe to Jean-Jacques Lumumba, whistleblower , former banker and grand-nephew of the hero of Congolese independence Patrice Lumumba.

The Gay Impex company will be legally constituted in Congo in 2006, it will know under the presidency of Joseph Kabila a significant growth, but undoubtedly less than that of other companies close to Harish Jagtani these last ten years. RFI was able to reconstruct part of this success story worthy of a Bollywood film thanks to the Lumumba Papers, other confidential documents, including banking documents, and public sources, as well as multiple interviews with former employees, relatives and rivals of Mr. Jagtani.

A family of Indian immigrants who became millionaires

Under the presidency of Joseph Kabila, Harish Jagtani is not the only one to make a fortune. At least on paper, his whole circle benefits. “  His mother was a teacher in India, she still lives there. His father died when he was young  , ”says a friend of the Indian businessman. The mother, Neeta Jagtani, probably no longer frequents the halls of her school. With Sunita, the wife of her son Harish, she is at the head of at least one mega real estate project in Jaipur. According to the website of the Rajasthan real estate projects regulatory authority, the two women are directors of Shiv Sital Builders Private Limited, promoter of Sapphire, a luxurious ten-storey residence with a swimming pool and gardens on the roof. This company presents itself to interested investors as “ one of the leading real estate development companies in India, pioneer in the Democratic Republic of Congo  ” founded in 2007 by “  international construction tycoon Harish Jagtani  ”.

However, at that time, Harish Jagtani was best known in Congo as the Indian boss of the Congolese airline Services Air[now Serve Air Cargo]. He was just mentioned once that year in the columns of an Indian daily as a native who aspired to build a dolphin park in the desert of Rajasthan. But this project never saw the light of day.

When one asks Shiv Sital Builders Private Limited about the other luxury real estate residences in India listed as completed on its site, they are still unavailable. But the manager, Ajay Singh, promises ”  very soon  ” the start of work on a mega-project ”  Big Times  “, four semi-luxury residential towers, with 296 apartments on an 8,300 m² plot of land in Jaipur. The Indian businessman created with relatives in the 2010s several dozen companies in his country of origin. They officially aim to operate in the field of construction, hotels, real estate and even health, but most of them do not even have a website.

$20 million repaid in just three years

It is in these same sectors that Harish Jagtani made his fortune in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the information that he himself provided in 2014 to one of his banks and that RFI obtained, he cumulated that year with his three construction companies eight real estate projects completed or in progress in Kinshasa for an amount of 112 .5 million dollars. The Indian businessman claims to have no more than $5 million in loans from two banks, BIAC and Rawbank. According to another bank document, taken from the Lumumba papers, another line of credit had been opened in 2011 for $20 million to BGFI Bank, a bank run by a member of Joseph Kabila’s family, but in 2014 this amount has already been fully refunded.

That year, his air cargo company Services Air had $5 million in assets and more than $35 million in annual revenue. But the very productive Indian businessman embarks on the construction of a modern hospital in Kinshasa. Also according to this confidential bank document, to finance HJ Hospitals – today one of the main private hospitals in Kinshasa – Harish Jagtani was counting on a five million dollar loan out of the 19.8 million initial investment he owed him. -even finance the remaining 14.5 million from own funds and had pledged land estimated at more than 6 million dollars. ”  He may have applied for loans from other banks, but this Mr. Jagtani never ran out of cash », insists his former banker and whistleblower Jean-Jacques Lumumba, who, like other bankers and businessmen in Kinshasa, suspects illicit operations. “  When he went to commission to obtain the loan of 5 million, he had already bought most of the equipment. He didn’t need us to finance this operation.  »

Harish Jagtani's family. RFI/Infographic service

The desire to operate prestigious partnerships

Harish Jagtani tries to seduce beyond the borders of Congo. But he struggles to interest the big brands in his real estate projects in Kinshasa. One of his biggest catches is having signed in 2019, the day after the election of Félix Tshisekedi, a partnership with the luxury hotel chain Hilton, which nevertheless hesitated for a long time to associate with him. . This American multinational should open by the end of 2021 a hotel in one of the buildings of the Indian businessman, the Congo Trade Center (CTC), the largest commercial and residential center in Kinshasa ideally located on the banks of the Congo River. Others have given up joining. “  Harish is smart and good company  ,” comments a foreign businessman who once had his sights set on the CTC shops. “ Harish does not lack money, wants to go fast, but does not have all the necessary documentation to inspire confidence in established brands. »

The foreign businessman takes the example of the Congo Trade Center shopping mall, completed even before contacting his future clients. “  Which entrepreneur has such a project and thinks of bringing in brands afterwards? “, he still wonders years later. “  The major brands have fairly uniform stores worldwide and any promoter knows that these steps must be taken upstream if they wish to make their project profitable.  A Congolese operator also wonders about the reasons for the success of this rival’s economic model ”  when half the apartments are empty  “. “ I had also tried to get started, but at less than 75% occupancy rate over ten years, that did not allow the initial investment to be profitable, if of course we take into account the payment of bank interest and taxes. »

Since the controversy over the renovation of the plenary hall of the Senate, press articles relating to Mr. Jagtani’s management practices have multiplied, but do not seem to worry the American multinational Hilton. Asked by RFI about the research carried out on the liabilities of the businessmen and companies with which it associates, a spokesperson for Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc assures that the large American group has “demonstrated due diligence […  ] ] to confirm the ownership structure and that its internal procedures comply with the rules imposed by the United States Department of Justice and other regulatory authorities. Like any American company, the Hilton chain is subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits it from being associated with any act of direct or indirect corruption of a foreign public official.

“Kenny” Rawtani, from tailor to millionaire

The Jagtani clan probably now has more than one millionaire. Harish’s brother-in-law, Kamal “Kenny” Rawtani, also impresses with his growing assets over the past decade. ”  We remember him as a little tailor who came to us with his suitcase to make us costumes that cost a few hundred dollars at the time  ,” complains a rival. Today, the ”  little tailor  ” is at the head of a holding company, Kenny’s International, which has 15 stores in nine countries. He claims ownership of at least two buildings, RR House and Casa Savi, in the heart of Kinshasa, runs several of the best-known restaurants and clubs: K Lounge, Millionaire Club, Olive Verte, Fusion, etc.

He also has a travel agency, Miles Travels, but also a construction company, Sokerico. He is one of the main associates of the discreet Milano company created in Kinshasa in 2005. At least one luxury boutique with the same name and a logo similar to that of Kenny’s international exists in Luanda, in neighboring Angola. In 2017, his main associate, Ritesh Hemnani, had been kidnapped and sequestered for 18 days, his captors, Congolese, Cameroonians and Mozambicans had demanded from his relatives more than 2 million dollars in ransom. He was eventually released by the Congolese police.

A partner cited in the Panama Papers

Harish Jagtani has long had a certain Sajid Umelada Dhrolia as his main partner, even if for a little over a year, relations between the two men seem to have been strained, according to relatives. It is together that they founded Modern Construction in 2009, they are both among the main shareholders, according to the statutes of the company published in the Official Journal in 2012. Mr. Dhrolia always presented himself as “director” of this company in 2016 when his name was mentioned in the context of the revelations linked to the “ Panama Papers ”, this unprecedented leak of confidential documents from offshore companies.  

The investigation is coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). She does not mention Harish Jagtani, but establishes connections between Sajid Dhrolia and two other Indians who have long operated in Kinshasa, Salim Anwerali Kamani and Nazim Sadrudin Charaniya. All three have ties to a company based in the British Virgin Islands, Sanzi Holding Limited. “  Some of them hadn’t been in the Congo for a long time, but when they were mentioned in the Panama Papers, it was still a shock  ”, explains a member of the Indian community in Kinshasa.

The information may be shocking, because the use of this type of company based in tax havens is often equated with disreputable practices ranging from tax evasion to money laundering. The anonymity of the true beneficiaries of Sanzi Holding Limited is guaranteed, but the British Virgin Islands and their followers often justify this opacity on grounds of confidentiality.

The “  Lumumba Papers  ” may help to lift part of this veil of opacity. When Mr. Jagtani presented himself at the beginning of the 2010s to banking establishments in Kinshasa to obtain loans, he said he was a shareholder of a “Sanzi Group” which had ”  points of sale in Angola (48), in Cameroon, in Namibia and of course in the DRC  ”. According to the cross-checks carried out by RFI, this group is presented today under the name ”  Group SNS “. With its subsidiary, Noble Group SA, it has become one of the largest importers in Angola and owns the supermarket chain Angola Mart and other companies, notably in India and Dubai. In 2010, this group already posted more than 730 million dollars in annual turnover, according to one of its executives.

Sajid Dhrolia is barely older than Harish Jagtani and his background is quite similar. Born on June 3, 1971, he himself assures BGFI Bank that he finished his graduate studies in Business Communications at the University of Bombay in 1995 and immediately emigrated to the DRC. He founded a small import-export company Sajico which was to register as a representative of Indian brands then little known, Lasam’s or Champion Whisky. With Kin Marché and its two points of sale in the Congolese capital, Sajid Dhrolia remains almost unknown to the general public in Congo, more discreet than his ex-friend Harish, he leaves few written traces behind him.

Companies based in tax havens

Like Harish Jagtani, “Saju”, as Congolese political and business circles call him, is nevertheless one of the greatest architects of the luxury real estate boom of recent years. With one of his companies, the Compagnie hôtelière et immobilière du Congo (CHIC), he managed to sign a partnership in September 2019 with another prestigious hotel chain, the French Accor, for the opening of three hotels in Kinshasa. and in the two mining towns, Lubumbashi and Kolwezi.

His name appears as a representative of one of the two shareholder companies, Galmington Holdings Limited, a company based in the British Virgin Islands. According to CHIC’s constitutive act dated December 19, 2017, for this big operation, Sajid Dhrolia poached Chug Chaitanya, one of the main associates of one of his cousins, Rahim Dhrolia, a very influential businessman in the former province of Katanga. Chug Chaitanya represents CAPS Holding Limited, a company based in the Seychelles, which is also considered by the European Union as a tax haven .

This opacity does not seem to have put off the French group Accor. Questioned by RFI, he claims to have carried out “  thorough prior checks on potential owners and their shareholders  ”. This investigation would have revealed “  no warning signal or risk  ”. The three hotels are scheduled to open in December 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively.

That’s not all. Sajid Dhrolia is also, according to several sources, behind another heavyweight in the sector: Safricode. “Saju” relied this time on a more well-known and respected Indian entrepreneur: Alu Rahi Manji and his company Devimco, which has long experienced liquidity problems. According to its website, Safricode was created in 2014 by Devimco and another company A One Construction attributed to Mr. Dhrolia. In barely six years of existence, Safricode announces that it has completed five luxury residential and commercial projects in Kinshasa, including the Panoramique, a building with twenty-four apartments, with an infinity pool, jacuzzi, sauna, gymnasium, games, two huge terraces with a breathtaking view of Kinshasa ”  and much more “Promises its website. The villas of his Promenade residence have made people happy among the members of the cabinet of the new head of state, according to sources close to the businessman and inside the Presidency. ”  I have the same salary as them, I could never have afforded a house there  “, one of these sources is surprised.

Frustration of the Congolese business community

The successes of “Harish” and “Saju” are jealous in all communities, but especially among Congolese businessmen who are tired of seeing the most important infrastructure projects carried out by foreigners. “  When you are Congolese and you want to do business in Congo, it is difficult to have access to capital and bank guarantees. Even the banks are mostly run by foreigners who themselves have interests in Congo  ,” laments a Congolese entrepreneur. “  When a head of state comes to power and says he’s going to create Congolese millionaires, I laugh. For this entrepreneur, the explanation is simple: ”  The Congolese politician  ” can hardly open an account ”  in Europe or elsewhere “. To invest his illegally acquired money, “he” cannot join forces with Congolese “  for reasons of confidentiality  ”.
The successes of “Harish” and “Saju” are jealous in all communities, but especially among Congolese businessmen who are tired of seeing the most important infrastructure projects carried out by foreigners. “  When you are Congolese and you want to do business in Congo, it is difficult to have access to capital and bank guarantees. Even the banks are mostly run by foreigners who themselves have interests in Congo  ,” laments a Congolese entrepreneur. “  When a head of state comes to power and says he’s going to create Congolese millionaires, I laugh. For this entrepreneur, the explanation is simple: ”  The Congolese politician  ” can hardly open an account ”  in Europe or elsewhere “. To invest his illegally acquired money, “he” cannot join forces with Congolese “  for reasons of confidentiality  ”.


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Harish Jagtani was detained by Indian Authorities on the count of money laundering in Congo.


Is Jagtani still at large or captivated somewhere by authority?