Jaswant Rai: The tycoon whose family runs sugar empire

"The question is why? Nothing was stolen from him, no ransom has been demanded yet. We are in the dark and very shocked," said a distraught acquittance who sought anonymity citing the sensitivity and complexity of the shocking incident.

The Standard could not immediately reach Rai's family for comment.

Efforts to get a comment from the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) chairman Rajan Shah were futile by press time.

The reclusive turban-dotting media-shy tycoon rarely gives public interviews despite his family controlling more than half of the sugar produced in Kenyan farms.

But Kenyans have got a glimpse of the lifestyle of the rich and famous Rai family through the many legal battles pitting his sugar empire and other sugar barons.

The cases reveal the steely nature of the tycoon and his family who often go all out to protect their business empire.

Reports show, the Rai family fortunes' can be traced to the patriarch's early entry into agriculture in the former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Kenya during the post-independence era.

Reports show the family traces its massive empire when their patriarch Tarlochan Sigh Rai who since passed on acquired massive tea and coffee estates from Belgians fleeing then Belgian Congo - now the Democratic Republic of Congo - in the 1960s.

When the Rai family welcomed former President Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto then Deputy President for the commissioning of Rai Panpaper in Webuye, Bungoma County. [File, Standard]

It is said Mr Tarlochan painstakingly would then build a massive empire and expand into Kenya by seeking out opportunities jointly with other like-minded business partners to produce coffee and tea in the Rift Valley in the 1970s.

Years later the family is still going strong and owns systemic companies and businesses across East Africa, with interests in strategic industries such as edible oils and soaps (Menengai Oil Refineries), saw-milling (Timsales, RaiPly and Webuye Panpaper), wheat farming, horticulture, sugar industry (West Kenya, which owns Kabras Sugar) and real estate (Tulip Properties).

The Rai Family bought Webuye Paper Mills in 2016 when it was privatised and now operates as Rai Paper. When the once vibrant paper mill was expected to reclaim lost glory once privatised, it is yet to make a mark. The Rai family had said it would pump in Sh6 billion over five to ten years. It was expected that with time, it would create 1,500 jobs.

In later years, Rai -the chairman of the expansive Rai business family has presided over the Rai group of businesses' meteoric rise.

Marriage of money, power and politics is not strange to Kenyan business oligarchs and Rai's rise to fame and fortune is punctuated with the hallmark of the explosive mix.

The soft-spoken and reclusive billionaire tycoon has over the years grown to become the number one sugar oligarch in the country, controlling the largest share of Kenya's sugar output.

The soft-spoken, astute tycoon has been seen to have powerful connections in political circles over the last few decades that have catapulted his business empire.

This has helped him and his family build a massive sugar empire undercutting powerful sugar barons along the way.

Last November Sukari Industries Ltd, linked to Rai, sought a nod to set up a new Sh5.132 billion factories in Trans Mara, Narok County.

The company had asked the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) to approve its proposed sugar mill with a potential for producing 3,000 tonnes of cane per day (TCD) expandable to 6,000 TCD.

The new Narok factory with the potential to employ up to 400 people would see the Rai family take the battle for sugar billions to the doorstep of Mauritius' largest sugar miller Alteo which operates Transmara Sugar Company Ltd in the same Agricultural fields.

It would also see the wealthy Rai family who control a multi-billion sugar empire through their four giant millers of West Kenya, Olepito, Sukari and the newly opened Naitiri Sugar Company cement their dominance of the country's lucrative sugar market.

The wealthy Rai family extended its stranglehold on the lucrative local sugar sector by launching a fourth Sh5 billion modern milling plant in Bungoma County mid-last year.