Early last week, a picture emerged on social media depicting a gaunt-looking and wanted Mombasa tycoon Ali Badruddin Punjani basking in the sun and reading a newspaper from the balcony of a palatial home.
Observers identified the house to be Punjani’s residence in Nyali -- the one that police purported to raid mid last month in alleged search of narcotics -- sparking claims the tycoon was, freely living in Mombasa, having sneaked back unnoticed.
Doubts have since been cast on this photograph, with a section of intelligence and DCI sources suggesting it was an elaborate hoax to confuse the public.
Conspiracy theories have also since trebled in Mombasa regarding Punjani’s actual whereabouts and why local police are reluctant to discuss this matter.
Significantly, and despite last month’s loud proclamations by immediate former Coast Regional Police Commander Johnston Ipara that Punjani was wanted for drug trafficking, no security official in Mombasa wants to discuss this matter.
His lawyers too have been evasive, their legal strategies in and out. Yet there are wide gaps in the information supplied by Punjani’s aides. For example, these aides easily divulge information and pictures of the tycoon allegedly recuperating in an Indian hospital but are reluctant to supply any information to prove he, actually, entered India on whatever date.
But there is growing consensus among a section of security officials that Punjani entered Kenya around eight days ago and is living in a yet to be identified house separate from the palatial residence known to the public.
“As far as I know, Punjani is around here. We even know where he is living,” said a top detective in Nairobi yesterday who added that “he entered Kenya by private car through Lungalunga border last week.”
According to this officer, Punjani flew from Mumbai to Dar es Salaam where he is known to have investments.
His presence in Mombasa was also alleged by a close aide of the tycoon who told Sunday Standard that “I can confirm to you that he is in Mombasa but I will not tell you exactly where he is.”
This aide declined to speak on record for fear of antagonising his friend, but he added that “my friend is resting and he came about two weeks ago.”
But speaking to Coast Regional Police Commander Rashid Yakub, it is impossible to discern what is going on.
“I am not aware if Punjani is in the county. If he were, we would have arrested him long ago,” Yakub said and accused the media of spinning conspiracy theories that have no basis.
Meanwhile, his lawyer Salim Ghalia appeared to be at a loss for words when asked to confirm whether his client had returned.
Ghalia said he had no information on whether Punjani was back in Kenya.
“Give me time to verify if my client is back,” he said after a court session where he represented Punjani in an ongoing affray case in Mombasa.
Besides this affray case, his lawyers applied for anticipatory bail earlier this month to prevent Punjani’s arrest. But last week, Punjani’s other lawyer Jared Magolo told journalists that his client was no longer keen on this application although he gave a different reason for this.
“My client is not in a hurry to come back and that is why I am not very keen to follow his application for anticipatory bail,” said Magolo, who suggested that his client was comfortable recuperating in India.
Initially, there were allegations that Punjani, who has twice postponed his to return to Kenya, may have decided to stay in India after the court declined to grant the sought orders. The judge ruled that the orders could not be granted without listening to the government’s response.
David Fedha, a senior counsel in the DPP’s office, told Sunday Standard the State had been served with the application by Punjani’s lawyers but it was yet to respond because there were still consultations over whether to oppose the application.
The case was supposed to come up for inter-parties hearing on Monday last week but did not take place because the file had been taken to Malindi High Court by Mombasa Registry officials who thought Justice Reuben Nyakundi was to sit there to handle certificate of urgency files.
We have since established that Punjani intends to withdraw the anticipatory bail application altogether in coming weeks.
Now, there are fears within Punjani’s legal circles that an arrest warrant could soon be issued by the magistrate’s court hearing his trial.
Punjani is out on a Sh20,000 cash bail on the affray matter where he is accused of fighting the Akasha brothers -- Baktash and Ibrahim -- in public on December 31, 2016.
The court has grappled with whether to consolidate Punjani’s trial with the separate affray case facing Baktash’s nephew Abdulsalam Kamaldin.
The state withdrew charges against Baktash and Ibrahim when they were transferred to the US in January 2017. Punjani and Abdulsalam were not in court during the last mention on Monday and an arrest warrant was declared against the latter.
Meanwhile, the top detective says despite knowing that Punjani is hiding in plain sight in Mombasa, he cannot be arrested without orders from the State.
“We have not arrested him because no orders have been issued,” he said, sparking doubts the police’s initial gusto and proclamations about Punjani’s alleged links with global narcotics trade.
Punjani’s close ties to government officials, including Cabinet Secretaries, is well established. He counts among his close confidants a serving PS, a high commissioner, several MPs and an official from the presidency.
Last month, convicted Indian drug felon Vijayghiri Goswami named Punjani as a leading drug lord in Kenya. Goswami claimed Punjani, who has extensive investments throughout East Africa, was a rival of the Akashas. In the wake of these adverse claims by Goswami, police raided Punjani’s home in Nyali, seized documents, arrested three people but found no narcotics.
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