Jayesh Shah: Elusive but wealthy figure

The failed deal also gave the public a peek into the closely-guarded, secretive and behind the scenes activities of Zimbabwe’s financial world.
Apart from giving the public a glimpse into banks’ dealings, the development has also brought to the fore the question, who is Jayesh Shah?

Despite having apparently deep pockets, Shah shies away from publicity save for instances where he makes newspaper headlines because a certain businessman or politician has failed to settle a loan he advanced.

For instance, a Google search of Shah yields results but this is not an actual reflection because other Jayesh Shahs also feature on the list.

Other business tycoons, such as Philip Chiyangwa, have built a persona around their wealth.

An offer to interview him was rebuffed this week, saying he does not do interviews on his life.

Although a Google image search yields results, the pictures are of other Jayesh Shahs scattered across the world who bear no resemblance to him. Even local newspapers do not have pictures of him in their libraries, save for one that is said to be filed at the Herald where he appeared only once, people say.

On a flight to India, a local executive set next to Shah and did not know who he was. As irony would have it, Shah recognised the executive and introduced himself.

The executive says he spent an enjoyable few hours with the businessman, whom he described as a “jovial character” before disembarking somewhere in East Africa.

Shah cuts an elusive but apparently wealthy image. To some, he comes through as a knight in shining  armour, especially to the financially troubled, or those merely seeking cash. Little to nothing is known about his educational background. However, judging by his business acumen and risk management, he is obviously a smart individual who understands the world of finance.

Last year, businessman Oliver Chidawu lost a 36% stake in Pelhams after he ceded the shares as collateral for a US$3 million loan.

Shah’s source of wealth has its history in Kenya and Zambia. Apart from Gift Investments, a Zimbabwean company that supplied buses to Zupco and other local companies, Saturn Trading Investment and more recently Al Shams Building Trading, a United Arab Emirates company, his business interests remain shrouded in mystery.

To others, he has become that elusive light at the end of a tunnel; they never know if it is a light of hope or that of a train approaching. He is a lot of things to a lot people.

A CEO of a listed group says Shah was a real financial knight in shining armour in 2009 and lent the CEO’s group US$1 million at pretty reasonable rates, given the tight liquidity conditions in the economy. This particular executive knew better than to default on his obligations. As a result, Shah is always trying to accommodate his company, he says.

To others, such as Renaissance Merchant Bank founder Patterson Timba, he became that other light (of a train) at the end of the tunnel. The rest, as they say in the Shah-Timba debacle, is history.

Immaculately well-dressed in a Chinese suit  during a one-on-one meeting , it becomes clear that contrary to popular belief that as a “loan shark” he possibly talked out of the sides of his mouth in true Hollywood fashion, he appears the exact opposite and tries too hard to make his visitors feel at home. 

Even other business figures such as Nigel Chanakira, who has a rather cleaner image save for the John Moxon affair, have had their brushes with Shah.

Shah hogged the limelight in 2004 after Kingdom Bank filed an application in the High Court seeking to recover US$900 000 from Saturn Trading and Investments, a company linked to him. 

Kingdom Bank alleged the businessman’s Saturn Trading was overpaid on settlement.

Charles Nherera, the former chairman of Zimbabwe United Passenger Company, was accused and convicted of soliciting US$85 000 from Shah in order to award a tender for the procurement of buses.

Shah became the state’s star witness and waxed lyrical about corruption and greed which secured the conviction of Nherera.

Now Nherera is claiming Shah maliciously caused his arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on unfounded corruption charges.

Nherera was acquitted by the High Court after serving a two-year prison term and is now suing Shah for damages to the tune of US$400 000, according to the Herald.

Shah has an international presence, holding various bank accounts with reputed banks such as HSBC and BNP Paribas, among others.

Last year, he instituted legal action against HSBC, claiming financial losses after the bank in 2006-07 reported his request to transfer US$28 million from his account to one in Geneva, Switzerland to the Serious Organised Crime Agency on suspicion of money-laundering.

This came after the court of Appeal in the UK ruled in Shah’s favour.

Shah claimed US$300 million in damages from the international bank.

In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent last year, Shah also claimed to be a victim of vilification for his support to Zimbabwean companies.
“Because of our links to Zimbabwean companies, our company accounts as well as my personal accounts were frozen in Europe, including the UK, and eventually closed,” said Shah.

Finance minister Tendai Biti last year accused Shah of being a “loan shark” who was assuming the role of a central bank by playing lender of last resort, a charge the businessman disputes.

“It’s unfortunate that the Finance minister is giving the impression that we approached Timba and conned him into borrowing the money from us, then put a gun on his head and forced him to sign the agreement, blasted open Timba’s safe and forcibly took the security and when Timba refused to accept the loan proceeds –– we forced open his pockets and shoved the money into his pockets.”

Shah told the Independent that he had done business in Zimbabwe for over a decade.