The identity of those behind Safaricom's mystery shareholder continues to confound Kenyans many months after a parliamentary investment watchdog began to look into the matter. Nevertheless Nairobi gossip has for months maintained that the mystery shareholder is the son of a well known Kenyan politician.

Mobitelea Ventures Ltd is a shell company registered in Guernsey that in 2003 was allowed by Vodafone to acquire a five per cent stake in Safaricom, the country's biggest mobile operator. The shares, held through Vodafone Kenya, are now worth at least US$100m (Sh6.7 billion).

Mobitelea's real owners are hidden behind two nominee firms, Guernsey-registered Mercator Nominees Ltd and Mercator Trustees Ltd. The directors are named as Anson Ltd and Cabot Ltd, based in Anguilla and Antigua.

The companies are the creation of the Mercator Group, a family of businesses led by David Preston, a chartered accountant who once worked for Deloitte and Touche in London and Guernsey. The group specialises in creating and running international dummy companies, offshore trusts and other services.

When Safaricom sends out dividend cheques for its two main shareholders, Telkom Kenya and Vodafone Kenya, some of the money will find its way to Guernsey where the Mercator Group will forward it to Mobitelea's owners.

According to the Guernsey Financial Services Commission, the Mercator Trust Company Ltd, Anson Ltd and Cabot Ltd were all created at the same time in a joint application. The application also created another 20 dummy companies to be used to keep similar shareholdings secret.

The 20 include five Mercator Group firms as well as Alex Picot & Company Ltd, AT Nominees Ltd, AT Trust Company Ltd, Chrisalis Trustees (Guernsey) Ltd, Dewsbury International Ltd, Exchange Services Ltd, First Alliance Trust (Guernsey) Ltd, Isis Fiduciary Corporation, MRG Services Ltd, Ormond Ltd, Pearson Fraser Consulting Ltd, Pearson Fraser Ltd, Quill Trust Company Ltd, Saints Bay Trust Company Ltd and Winslow Secretaries Ltd.

(SOURCE: East African Standard)