Ibrahim Noor Hillowly is a Kenyan Somali businessman and owner of Darasa Investments Limited which owns the multi-billion Comesa Shopping Mall in Eastleigh.
The businessman has over the years maintained a low profile, with little information about him in the general public. He, however, made headlines in 2017 when the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) moved to court seeking Ksh2.5 billion in taxes from him for a consignement of sugar he had imported into the country.
At the height of the sugar shortage experienced in the country in 2017, the government allowed traders to import sugar duty free, creating room for Hillowly to import 40 million kilos of sugar, which literally translated to “importing a kilo of sugar for almost every Kenyan”.
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Hillowly had managed to maintain a low profile prior to the case. His company Darasa Investments Limited was among those that imported sugar, duty free. Everything went well until a KRA official noticed discrepancies in the comopany’s import documents.
Hillowly told the court that he bought 40,000MT of Brazilian brown sugar on July 15, 2017 from Sabina Engineering Company at a cost of $21.2 million (approximately Ksh2.12 billion at the time). The cargo was then loaded into MV Anangel Sun at Santos Port, Brazil.
Darasa Investments Limited told the court that MV Anangel Sun measures 250 by 43 metres could not dock at the Mombasa port because of its size. This raised questions as to why a cargo ship that could not dock at Kilindini was loaded with cargo destined for Kenya.
Hillowly claimed that the vessel could not dock in Mombasa due to unfavourable weather conditions at the Mombasa port coupled and also due to its size. He stated that MV Anangel was forced sail to Jebel Ali port, United Arab Emirates (UAE) where the cargo was offloaded and stored at Multi Commerce FZE. It was then loaded into a smaller vessel, MV Iron Lady, which brought the sugar to Mombasa.
However, there was no evidence that MV Anangel Sun was loaded with sugar destined to Kenya. Also, court documents indicated that the cargo aboard the ship was owned by Ugandan company, Sabrina Engineering Company Limited. The shipper quoted the bill of lading as Madrid’s Angolgest Consltoria Gestion.
When the consignement landed in Dubai, ownership of the cargo changed and another bill of lading indicated the shipper as Lumira General Trading for Multi Commerce FZC. As a result, KRA had issues handling cargo that had two bills of lading, from two different countries.
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In its defence, Darasa claimed that the sugar was inspected and certified by Dubai government authorities, however, the taxman disputed the claim, noting that Dubai customs could not verify the import since it is not a sugar producing country.
To make matters worse, the shipping documents showed that the sugar was produced in August 2017 and September 2017, raising questions of whether Hillowly and his company imported unproduced sugar.
Following the discrepancies, KRA moved to court seeking that the businessman pay Ksh2.6 billion duty and Darasa moved to court in a bid to overturn the directive. In May 2020, High Court Judge Erick Ogola allowed Darasa to offload the sugar duty free.
In June 2020, the Court of Appeal directed Darasa to pay the import duty, further noting that Hillowly should have taken the case to the tax tribunal and not the High Court. It also said that the company failed to confirm whether they had indeed imported the cargo within the exemption period.
While defending himself in court against a petition by the prosecution to have him locked up, the billionaire listed some of his assets, giving the court and the general public a glimpse into his multi-billion empire.
“I am a Kenyan and own a Sh700 million estate in Eastleigh estate besides other property,” he said.
These properties include the Comesa Shoping Mall located in Eastleigh’s General Waruinge Street. The property rests on a six-acre plot and estimated to have cost Darasa Investments Limited Ksh3 billion.
The 300-store mall opened doors in November 2016.
In 2010, the billionaire businessman was arrested on suspicion that he was a Somali citizen and had irregularly acquired Kenyan citizenship. However, the court in a ruling ordered that his identification documents including ID and passports be returned to him.