London, Aug. 17 (PTI): Hemant Lakhani, arrested last week for allegedly smuggling an anti-aircraft missile into the US, has been under investigation by the Kenyan government for arms-for-diamonds deals and for supplying weapons to al Qaida cells, a media report said today.
The 68-year-old British national of Indian origin was previously linked with an arms dealer described as “odious” by the British government for supplying weapons to rebels in Sierra Leone, according to a probe by The Sunday Times.
“It has also emerged that Lakhani has been under investigation by the Kenyan government for arms-for-diamonds deals and for supplying weapons to al Qaida cells,” the paper said.
Lakhani, who was born in Porbandar in Gujarat, moved to London in the 1950s. He set up business in the rag trade, but had expensive tastes.
His wife Kusum, 66, was respected for her work for Asian charities. She was president of the Sangam Association of Asian Women, a charity set up to offer immigration and welfare advice in north London.
When Princess Diana opened a new centre for the group in 1991, Lakhani and his wife were introduced to her. It was a social highlight for them both, but the next year Lakhani was declared bankrupt.
Lakhani is then understood to have made frequent trips to Kenya. There, he is said to have become a business associate of Sanjivan Ruprah, a Kenyan national of Indian origin named by the UN two years ago for selling arms to the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone in breach of international sanctions.
Ruprah has been described as “odious” by Peter Hain, the leader of the Commons, because of his links to Victory Bout, a Russian accused of supplying arms to the Taliban.
Kenyan authorities started investigating Lakhani last August when he fled the country after Ruprah’s arrest. They suspected he had been involved in selling arms to al Qaida cells and warlords in Kenya and Somalia.
The newspaper quoted a Kenyan police source as saying: “The two (Lakhani and Ruprah) are suspected of being involved in the seeking of arms-for-diamonds to rebel group movements in the Great Lakes region, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.”
Kenyan investigators are looking at a possible link with Yemeni al Qaida suspects arrested in a raid in Mombasa last Sunday. During the raid, police discovered five Russian-made shoulder-launched Igla missiles similar to the one that Lakhani is charged with importing into the US.
British intelligence officials said they were unaware of Lakhani’s links with terrorism. They said the operation had been US-led and the British contribution had been “very small”.
Lakhani has his roots firm in Porbandar, including a locked house. However, relatives deny having met him of late despite the accused reportedly making several trips to India, including Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Porbandar.
Bhavesh Lakhani, a distant cousin of the accused and son of late Gujarat Speaker Shashikant Lakhani, said over phone that he had last met Hemant several years ago when he was visiting Gujarat.