Spencon: Inside a fall of an African construction giant

BBC

Spencon was once one of a largest construction firms in East Africa. After years of financial trouble, two highly-paid British bosses were brought in to save it, though 18 months after a bosses had fled and hundreds of Africans had mislaid their jobs. An Africa Eye investigation reveals a inside story of how Spencon went bust.

BBC

Simeon Randinga assimilated Spencon as a janitor. He dreamed it would pierce a improved life.

Image caption

Simeon Randinga assimilated Spencon as a janitor. He dreamed it would pierce a improved life.

BBC

BBC

In Jul 2015, dual British bosses looked out from their new Nairobi offices over an dull patch of land and motionless to build a golf green.

Andrew Ross and Steven Haswell hired a consultant from one of Kenya’s heading golf clubs. Trees were ripped adult and transposed by bunkers and a well-spoken personification immature was laid and nourished by a sprinkler system.

“How cold is this?” wrote Haswell in an email home. “We’ll have chipping area, putting green, fort and pushing net.”

Ross and Haswell were in Nairobi on a rescue mission: to save a struggling Kenyan construction hulk Spencon. They had been allocated as directors of a association by US investment organization Emerging Capital Partners (ECP), that had in 2006 and 2007 invested a sum of $15m in Spencon – including $1.5m of British supervision assist income designed to boost a Kenyan economy and emanate jobs.

But Ross and Haswell did not attain in saving Spencon. According to thousands of leaked association emails, messages, and papers performed by Africa Eye, a dual British bosses seem to have intent in a settlement of rarely controversial business practices as they attempted to spin a association around. They now mount indicted of allegedly operative with a convicted rapist to deceive banks of millions of dollars, of practically melancholy to sell out business partners to scandalous Kenyan gangsters, and of creation potentially bootleg income payments.

This is a story of a 18 months Ross and Haswell spent in assign of Spencon before a association went bust, withdrawal hundreds of Kenyans out of work, some already blank months of pay.

Nancy Ntinu, Spencon’s former conduct of HR, took Africa Eye on a debate of a now deserted golf immature built by Ross and Haswell.

“Having a golf march for a association that is insolvent, on a verge of financial distress, that only doesn’t supplement up,” she pronounced as she walked on a disproportionate putting area.

“It was a hoax for Kenyan employees to watch this grass being watered on a daily basement given these dual gentlemen wanted to play golf.”

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Workers building partial of Ross and Haswell’s golf green

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The finished green

‘We are going to remove this patient’

Spencon was once one of a largest construction firms in East Africa – a hulk that employed some-more than 5,000 staff during a rise and boasted vital infrastructure projects opposite 7 countries. It was headquartered in a high bureau formidable in a Upper Hill community of Nairobi with successful multi-nationals for neighbours.

But behind a scenes, Spencon was saddled with debt. In early 2014, ECP, a US organization that had invested $15m, took control of a construction association from a founders. In Nov 2014, ECP hired Ross – an operative and business executive who would assume altogether control of Spencon. In Apr 2015 he was assimilated by Haswell – an accountant with trust of restructuring African businesses, who would run a finances. Haswell was to be paid $25,000 a month, Ross $30,000.

Their pursuit was to spin around Spencon’s fortunes so that ECP could sell it by a finish of 2016. They had only 18 months. With a business already on a brink, it was never going to be easy, though a predestine of hundreds of staff opposite East Africa lay in Ross and Haswell’s hands.

Wycliffe Ochieng, a 38-year-old, partner mechanic, was one of those staff. Ochieng had found complacency in his work during a company. It had authorised him to lease a tiny home with his mother and immature daughter in Nairobi, with regulating H2O and electricity, and he began to dream of a improved life for his family.

When Spencon finally went bust, in Nov 2016, Ochieng found himself though work and in crippling debt. He was due months of compensate and he due months of rent.

“He used to buy us things, like boots and clothes,” removed his wife, Lynet. “Some of things he did for us when we lived in city are opposite compared to now.”

Now a family lives in a tiny hovel on Ochieng’s parents’ property, 230 miles (370km) from Nairobi. They have no electricity and no regulating water. Ochieng shares a bed with Lynet and their immature daughter, and works a land to feed them as good as he can. Some days he hardly cooking during all.

“I used to take caring of my family like a male should,” he said, dejectedly, when Africa Eye visited him there final year. “It has unequivocally brought down my self-esteem.”

Back in Jul 2015, Ochieng was nearing during Spencon for his initial day as an partner mechanic, blissfully unknowingly that a organization was already in critical trouble. Shortly after Ochieng started, Andrew Ross betrothed a staff that no one was going to remove their jobs, he said. But an email sent in Apr by Steven Haswell shows he was already worried.

“I cruise we are going to remove this patient!” he wrote. “We have 4 months of income left … It’s not looking good.”

The dual bosses cut costs by July, creation a spin of redundancies and relocating Spencon from a upmarket Nairobi domicile to a dry out-of-town upkeep repository owned by a company, where elementary pre-fab workshops were converted into offices.

But they also started spending.

A week after a pierce to a depot, Ross and Haswell paid $70,000 for their possess association cars – a Range Rover and Volkswagen Touareg. Haswell told Africa Eye a cars projected an picture of an organization of square rather than one tighten to insolvency. Ross pronounced a vehicles were deemed suitable by a board. But staff were not impressed. “It was a intemperate expenditure,” pronounced Spencon’s apparatus manager, Mike Hyland, who organised a purchase. Dickens Omollo, a conduct of confidence during a depot, was taken aback by Ross’s Range Rover. “We wondered – this is a lot of money, and we don’t have money, and he is observant he wants to pierce this association up?”

Ross and Haswell also got to work on their golf green. The conduct groundsman they had hired from one of Kenya’s heading golf clubs set about conceptualizing a plush use area – finish with dual bunkers containing 120 tons of sand.

The dual bosses told Africa Eye a golf march was built during immaterial cost regulating Spencon staff and equipment, and projected a certain picture of a company.

Simeon Randinga, a janitor during a firm, felt a march was off boundary to typical staff. “The golf march was out of finish for a rest of us,” he said. “It was theirs alone.”

Ross and Haswell told Africa Eye a immature was open for all a staff to use.

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Simeon Randinga in front of his new home

Fire sale

Getting a pursuit during Spencon had meant a universe to Randinga. He was newly married, and had begun to fear his mother would leave him if he could not yield for her. The unchanging income from Spencon eased his fears, and after a few months of work his mother changed to Nairobi to join him, and they had a child.

Then in midst 2015, Randinga beheld something that disturbed him, he pronounced – a association seemed to be offering off ideally good apparatus alongside throw and surplus machinery.

“When they were offering those things, we asked, ‘These are really good things, given are we offering them? Are we certain we still have a jobs?’.”

The male behind a sales was Tony Sanghani, a confidence consultant hired by Ross and Haswell. As good as security, a dual bosses tasked him with a glow sale of Spencon equipment. They would after contend they had no thought Sanghani was a convicted criminal. A elementary Google hunt shows that he and his hermit were sent to jail in 2002 for inciting their possess association confidence guards to attack dual men.

Mike Hyland, a Spencon apparatus manager, was assured Ross and Haswell knew. “I’m 100% certain they did,” he said. “I told Andrew Ross when we resigned, we know we were traffic with a criminal.” According to Hyland, Ross replied: “We have to do what we have to do.” Ross denied meaningful about Sanghani’s record or replying in that fashion.

Leaked emails uncover Sanghani had a dual boss’s full subsidy to sell assets. “Please all assistance and support Tony modify a aged apparatus and gangling tools into cash,” wrote Haswell in an email to staff in Oct 2015. “Please safeguard Tony is given full support,” wrote Ross in a detached email.

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Tony Sanghani was employed as a consultant by Ross and Haswell

As Randinga and other staff during Spencon grew endangered about their jobs, Sanghani was holding home a outrageous income and vital in a giveaway serviced unit with a automobile and driver, with a guarantee of income bonuses on tip of his compensate for delivering on a apparatus selloff.

“It seemed to be a clearway sale completely, resources sole during giveaway prices,” pronounced Kabiito Karamagi, a receiver allocated after Spencon went bust to demeanour into sales done by Sanghani in Uganda. “What we found was a sum underneath valuation.”

The deduction from those sales should have left to profitable off a firm’s bank debts in Uganda, though a income was instead deposited into Sanghani’s personal account.

When a member of Spencon staff emailed Haswell querying a arrangement, and seeking if it would benefaction a association with authorised issues, Haswell replied: “It’s ok… we can compensate to Tony’s bank account.”

Karamagi, a receiver, questioned how a income had been accounted for. “It’s positively many surprising that these monies are not banked on a association account, though on an individual’s account. It is many unusual,” he said. “It smacks of fraud.”

After Spencon went bust, a administrators – general accounting organization PWC – detected Sanghani had been paid $20,000 a month by Ross and Haswell, and adult to 25% commission. PWC called a volume “outrageous” in a context of Spencon’s financial position.

PWC also detected a outrageous black hole in Spencon’s books – during slightest $1.6 million had not been accounted for. According to Karamagi’s calculations, a volume blank might be even higher.

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The repository outward Nairobi where Ross and Haswell relocated Spencon

PWC did find some income had been paid to Spencon creditors, though zero to a Ugandan banks, that had concluded to a item sales in a expectancy they would get a sale funds. Questions also sojourn around a sale of Spencon resources in Kenya, and PWC has handed over files to Kenyan police.

“There was an goal to deceive creditors, pristine and simple,” pronounced Karamagi. “What we have here is a conditions of embezzlement, fraud.”

Ugandan military told Africa Eye they were operative with Interpol to doubt Ross and Haswell. Both organisation definitely denied any wrong-doing and pronounced they were unknowingly of any rapist review or any claims bought in administration relating to a sales.

Haswell pronounced a apparatus sale income was deposited into Sanghani’s criticism to strengthen it from creditors who had “dubious” justice orders to seize it, and to concede Spencon to “disburse a supports as it chose”, he said.

Both organisation pronounced all supports perceived from Mr Sanghani’s sales were accounted for and that a value of a apparatus was farfetched and banks were kept sensitive during all times.

“The exchange were available in a association accounts and authorized by a board,” pronounced Ross.

ECP told us it had had “no trust of these purported actions by Mr Sanghani” and “no seductiveness in carrying Spencon’s income deposited in other people’s accounts.”

At a finish of 2016, PWC pulpy Tony Sanghani to palm over his accounts though he refused to co-operate. According to a administrators, a $1.6 million is still missing. Africa Eye contacted Tony Sanghani though he declined to respond.

‘It smells like a bribe’

In Dec 2015, Ross and Haswell’s hopes for saving Spencon were resting partly on a payout a organization was due by a Kenyan supervision for work on a sewage diagnosis plant in Mombasa in 2000 – valued by Spencon during $16.5 million. And there was an combined inducement in their contracts: if a remuneration was approved, Ross would be entitled to a reward of adult to $80,000 and Haswell adult to $64,000. The dual British bosses were about to enter one of a murkiest chapters in a Spencon saga.

Before profitable out, a Kenyan supervision demanded to see a strange certificate to Spencon confirming execution of a works, though there was a problem: Spencon couldn’t find it.

They had only 10 days before they had to benefaction a certificate in court. Spencon’s counsel Rose Osiemo rushed to Mombasa, where she performed a minute from a County Secretary authorising a new certificate. But when she visited a Mombasa supervision dialect obliged for arising it, there was a snag.

WhatsApp messages sent 6 days after exhibit a barrier – someone was perfectionist an $80,000 income payment.

Haswell put Tony Sanghani on standby, and messaged Osiemo to let her know.

“I told him what is function … He concluded we can ask him to fist them if u want???”

But Osiemo pronounced her hit wanted to sojourn anonymous. “Want it to sojourn between me and them lest they are exposed,” she wrote behind to Haswell.

If a remuneration was above board, given was it being paid in cash, and given was Osiemo gripping her hit secret?

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Steven Haswell and Andrew Ross

Osiemo indispensable a income before an early-morning moody to Mombasa to accommodate her contact, sourroundings off a raging rush to get a cash. Haswell was in Tanzania. “I’m now in bank removing $80k income for you,” he messaged Osiemo. He kept Ross in a loop: “Trying to repel $80k income from SCB Tanzania. we will fly behind with it tonight.”

Haswell flew behind and handed dual envelopes pressed with income to Osiemo, who done her early morning moody to Mombasa carrying a income in her handbag, accompanied by Tony Sanghani.

“Remember 11 people smallest know that we are travelling with $80k,” Haswell wrote to her. “Stay warning and safe.”

Osiemo paid a hit and performed a minute confirming a work had been completed, as good as a record of credentials documentation. But a intrigue unsuccessful – a income a supervision due Spencon wasn’t released.

Africa Eye showed justification of a $80,000 remuneration to Jeremy Carver, a counsel who helped breeze a UK’s anti-bribery laws.

“The remuneration of $80,000 is flattering good documented in a papers that we have seen,” Carver said. “It looks like a bribe, it smells like a cheat and it’s paid by people who work for a association who are seemingly perplexing to keep it secret.”

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Spencon once employed 5,000 people

According to UK law, if a British citizen is concerned in bribery, it doesn’t matter where in a universe that purported cheat took place.

“For a British Directors, and indeed anybody concerned in a payment, they on a face of it need to be investigated,” pronounced Carver.

Osiemo denied profitable any income bribes to anyone to settle a Mombasa claim. She pronounced a income was a price paid to an unnamed consultant engaged by Spencon, who hired 4 eccentric engineers to check a site and write a news confirming a works were complete. It was one of those engineers, she said, who gave her documentation.

A request emailed to Haswell a subsequent day lists a $80,000 remuneration underneath expenses, with no contractors named. Ross declined to criticism on a responsibility claim, while Haswell pronounced he had no first-hand trust of given a transaction was available in this way.

They declined to contend who perceived a $80,000 or given a remuneration had to be done in cash, observant a income went to debt collection agents. And they strongly denied bribing Government officials, and pronounced a WhatsApp messages and emails had been taken out of context.

Ross pronounced he and Haswell sensitive a ECP residence of a swell of a losses explain and a parties it dealt with. ECP pronounced it had no trust of how any deputy certificate was obtained.

A scandalous crime family

As they attempted to spin Spencon around for sale, Ross and Haswell indispensable to make a purify mangle from a company’s past. But they were hampered by a lawsuit filed opposite Spencon by a firm’s initial family, a Patels, over a ECP takeover behind in 2014.

Pragnesh Patel, whose father founded Spencon in 1979, told Africa Eye that Ross and Haswell called him to a assembly during a Kempinski Hotel in Nairobi in Dec 2015 and offering to give adult Spencon’s share in a square of profitable growth land in lapse for dropping a suit.

Patel pronounced that when he asked what would occur if he refused, a dual British bosses forsaken a name of a intensity client for Spencon’s share of a land-owning association – a Akasha family.

The Akashas are scandalous Kenyan gangsters. In Aug 2019, Batktash Akasha was condemned to 25 years in jail in a US for regulating a tellurian drugs trafficking operation. In January, his hermit Ibrahim got 23 years for a same offence.

Tony Sanghani was one of those who knew a Akashas well. According to justification given during their justice case, a Akashas kick him so badly during a gangland drugs territory fight in 2014 that Sanghani finished adult in a coma.

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Evidence cinema from justice display Tony Sanghani in sanatorium in 2014

Pragnesh Patel was afraid, he said. He left a assembly and went to cruise his options, he said, afterwards he asked Ross for a second meeting, during a Nairobi coffee house, and this time he personally available on his phone.

On a recording, Patel can be listened seeking Ross if a tie to a Akashas is genuine.

“It’s genuine Pragnesh,” Ross replies. “It’s not us personification games, it’s genuine.”

“This is really serious,” pronounced Patel. “You know, a Akasha family are a homogeneous of Al Capone. Even if they know that I’m perplexing to retard a sale, they can indeed send a hitman and things like that.”

It was one of several times Patel uttered his fears about a association potentially being sole to a Akashas. Not once, in a whole recording, can Ross be listened contradicting those fears.

Ross told us it was absurd and wrong he threatened Patel with a Akasha family. When Africa Eye sent him a twin of a recording, he pronounced during no indicate did he discuss a Akashas.

Haswell pronounced during no time did Spencon cruise entering any transaction with a Akashas, and suggested Patel was perplexing to lead or entice Ross. He pronounced he had no trust of a Akashas until Patel mentioned them.

‘You snooze we lose’

By a center of 2016, Spencon was on a knees. The final days of a association were about to play out during a upkeep repository outward Nairobi that had turn a home.

Nancy Ntinu, a conduct of HR, was operative closely with Ross and Haswell, she said, in simple offices in wooden buildings on a repository grounds. Staff salaries were drying adult and workers were removing some-more and some-more angry. Many, including Ntinu, had not been paid scrupulously in months.

“I was literally great each day given we couldn’t trust a kind of conditions I’d got myself into,” she said.

Ntinu told Africa Eye that Ross ran by a list of staff, instructing her who to compensate and who not to pay.

“There was one womanlike co-worker who was on maternity leave and he took off her name. we asked why, and he said, ‘Well we snooze we lose’.”

One chairman always got paid, Ntinu claimed – Ross. “He will always compensate himself,” she said.

Ross told Africa Eye that a lowest paid staff were always paid initial and that his possess compensate was behind on several occasions. He denied regulating a phrase, ‘You snooze we lose’.

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Nancy Ntinu, a former conduct of HR, pronounced she mislaid £39,000 in pay

At a depot, Spencon staff were operative on though compensate in a wish a association would be saved. Wycliffe Ochieng, a partner mechanic, pronounced a blank compensate was inspiring his marriage. Ochieng’s mother began to think he was spending his income on another woman. Eventually she left, forcing him to send his daughter hundreds of miles divided to his parents’ home so he could continue to go to work.

Simeon Randinga, a janitor, began stealing from his landlord given he had no income to compensate his rent. “We found ourselves going home dull handed during a finish of a month,” he said. “The landlord is there watchful for we and we also need food, nonetheless we have nothing.”

But never contemplated indignant to Andrew Ross. “To strech him was like going to heaven,” he said.

Ross was on a golfing holiday in Turkey when he finally sealed penury papers for Spencon. Back during a Nairobi depot, bailiffs had begun to seize association skill and staff were in revolt.

When Ross returned, he called a assembly in a canteen, a dimly-lit prefab structure set somewhat detached from a other buildings on a compound, to give staff a news. They were furious, and a organisation of about 15 came to Ntinu to direct answers. “You are articulate about really indignant people, who are hungry, who don’t have anything to feed their families,” she said.

Ntinu knew afterwards that it was all over. She told Africa Eye she mislaid 7 months of compensate – about £39,000.

After roughly 4 decades in business, Spencon was gone. Not distant behind were Ross and Haswell.

“We listened one morning that they had boarded an aircraft and left behind to a UK,” pronounced Ntinu. “And that was it.”

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Wycliffe Ochieng is his aged Spencon overalls

Ross and Haswell told Africa Eye they were unapproachable of their time during Spencon, observant it was managed in a severe business sourroundings opposite a backdrop of hereditary debt, within a law and always with authorised advice. They pronounced they sympathised with a beating and annoy of workers, and deserted any allegations of wrongdoing.

They pronounced they had to rush Kenya given they were confronting threats, and that they continued to work on Spencon business delinquent for another 4 months.

Three and a half years on, both organisation are now employed in comparison positions in UK firms.

Many Spencon staff were not so lucky. None of a workers perceived their blank pay. Simeon Randinga, a janitor, now sells colourless in an bid to support his family. He struggled opposite a titillate to take his possess life, he said. “When we are not working, we are only a invalid man, we can't assistance anyone. You can't feed your family, we can't compensate residence rent. Even showering is not probable given we can't buy soap.”

Wycliffe Ochieng, a mechanic, never returned to a Nairobi home that had authorised him to dream – a landlord sealed him out and sealed all of his effects inside. All he has left now is his Spencon reserve helmet and overalls. He was once unapproachable to wear them, he said, they had done him feel like a success. His daughter infrequently asks him to put them on again, to play, though he has mislaid weight given his Spencon days, and a overalls hang loosely from his thinner frame.

Ochieng spasmodic speaks to some of his aged Spencon colleagues, from a payphone nearby. “Sometimes we get a call – Hey, my friend, can we loan me 100 shillings?” It’s 80p, $1. But he doesn’t have it.

Three months after his compensate was cut off, behind in 2016, Ochieng and a organisation of other Spencon employees went to slice adult a golfing immature that was laid by Ross and Haswell. A video camera prisoner a impulse they set off from a repository in protest.

“As we can see, nobody was happy,” Ochieng said, as he watched a footage back. “Nobody was laughing.”

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