AGA KHAN’S DTB HELPS ISBAT TO KILL SUDHIR’S VICTORIA UNIVERSITY
By Mulengera Reporters
For a while, a silent war has been brewing between Victoria University and rapidly-growing ISBAT University of Uganda based along Lugogo Bypass Road near Kololo. Whereas ISBAT, one of the few NCHE-chartered Universities in Uganda, is owned by wealthy Indian philanthropist Varghese Mundamattam, the yet to be chartered Victoria University is owned by Ugandan property mogul Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia.
So important is the charter status that in Uganda’s case, Premier Universities like Makerere don’t admit for master’s degree programs students from Universities that are not chartered. It also symbolizes highest levels of compliance with regulator NCHE requirements concerning prudent levels of staffing, quality academic programs and infrastructure standards.
ISBAT, which began as Sikkim Manipal operating along Entebbe Road in 2005, has grown rapidly because of the high standards to the extent that many Museveni cabinet ministers have had their children, that would ordinarily have studied abroad, enroll there on grounds that the ISBAT educational and training practices are comparable to what happens in those great Universities abroad. Actually, even some Ministers and MPs have done their graduate and undergraduate training at ISBAT and they proudly brag about it.
The recent acquisition of charter status only took ISBAT to a whole new level of academic excellence and it’s something management pompously celebrated and rode on for maximum publicity. And, indeed, student numbers have rapidly grown following the confidence NCHE exhibited in them by granting them charter which others like Cavendish are still struggling to achieve. ISBAT’s hands-on education has continued giving competitors a run for their money including Sudhir’s Victoria University based on Jinja Road, a prime location that should ideally attract large student numbers for them.
Recently chaos erupted after sales teams, trying to recruit students for Victoria University, strayed into ISBAT’ very spacious premises along Lugogo Bypass and ISBAT security had to intervene to prevent the provoked ISBAT staff from lynching provocateurs who claimed to be representing the interests of Victoria University. “What those guys did was very provocative, unethical and unprofessional. How do you sneak into your competitor’s premises and begin recruiting clients while luring them away? It was for the grace of God that the situation didn’t escalate into bloodshed,” says a source privy to the provocation that was occasioned by sales persons who claimed to be interested in a stronger VU.
Information regarding that provocative incidence reached ISBAT proprietor Varghese Mundamattam who contemptuously instructed his employees to ignore and carry on with the good work. Sources close to Varghese Mundamattam say that the wealthy father of one child considers his ISBAT brand to be too big to be intimidated or bothered by any of the unchartered competitor Universities. “He considers himself to be in his own league and considers it too much honor for him to keep fighting back each time he gets disrupted by those competitors who he considers to be less prolific than his ISBAT University.”
But in firmly standing up to the much feared Sudhir’s Victoria University, Mr. Varghese Mundamattam is said to be deriving his strength from many other sources including the Aga Khan Group that among other things owns Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) without whose affordable credit ISBAT wouldn’t have made so much progress in such a short time. With DTB’ affordable financing, Mr. Varghese Mundamattam has been able to do things which many of his competitors can only fantasize about. And knowledgeable sources say that in his ISBAT project, the executives at DTB and Aga Khan Development Foundation (AKDF) must have seen an opportunity to engender their proxy wars with big man Sudhir Ruparelia who has been tormenting and dwarfing them on many other fronts as will be shortly illustrated in the later part of this investigative narrative.
Apparently, the relationship between ISBAT and DTB has (besides the Sudhir proxy wars) been one of mutual and symbiotic consequences. It has been a proper win-win situation, because the investor got the capacity to rapidly grow his education infrastructure at Lugogo Bypass while DTB in return got the opportunity to monopolize the cashing in on all their banking needs. Even right now, it’s DTB that is 100% operating all ISBAT’s collection accounts whereby all students (some paying in dollars) pay their relevant fees through the DTB network including the branch that is being operated at the ISBAT campus in Lugogo.
INSIDE THE SUDHIR/AKDF FEUD
Even prior to the demise of his Crane Bank, Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia historically had sharp differences with the globally very influential and powerful Aga Khan Development Foundation (AKDF). The money magnate had, for instance, been battling the influential members of the AKDF family members over the proprietorship of Nakasero-based Plot 80. Those who know Kampala well will testify that this is the prime plot, measuring over an acre, that is located between AG William Byaruhanga’s Rwenzori Towers and Faze2 in the Nakasero State Lodge neighborhood. Whereas documents certified by the Lands Ministry showed that the land belongs to a very influential member of the AKDF official based in Canada, Sudhir’s Meera Investments somehow acquired an interest in it.
Sources reveal that at first the land curiously belonged to a one Shaban Matovu who later suspiciously transferred ownership to Davis Kakwenzire who later mortgaged it to Sudhir’s Crane Bank and took a loan. Kakwenzire used it as security but then Commissioner Land Registration Sarah Kulata subsequently investigated and cancelled Meera Investment’s entry and reinstated the Canada-based AKDF member as the rightful owner.
Being one who doesn’t easily lose fights, Sudhir’s company took the matter to court where the AKDF officials defended themselves by arguing Sudhir was proceeding on a land registration instrument that hadn’t been properly executed. And the matter for years dragged on before High Court’s Justice Byabasaija who was hearing it for years. At some point it was advised that a war between Sudhir and the globally powerful AKDF was unwinnable and would only produce two losers.
Consequently, peace talks were attempted but the meeting ended in chaos. It was chaired by prominent city lawyer Joash Sendege who also represents the AKDF member in Byabasaija’s court. However, the meeting ended in chaos and the AKDF officials openly cursed Sudhir as the meeting dispersed. They prophesied doom predicting his poor economic ending if he didn’t back off their member’s property.
The Canada-based AKDF official furiously told the Sudhir party at the talks: “We knew that man wasn’t very easy but even His Highness Aga Khan is personally surprised how he [Sudhir] can knowingly claim ownership of land that is clearly ours and he knows doesn’t belong to him. Now I’m condemned to make unnecessary travels to Kampala to attend court suppose I die in a plane crush? How will this Sudhir man ever compensate for the AKDF work I abandon back home in Canada to come for these endless court appearances?”
The elderly man then shed tears and vowed not to rest until Sudhir is economically obliterated to zero. We are told because of this and other money and property wrangles, the members of the very powerful AKDF network at some point considered globally decampaigning Sudhir which some people saw come to fruition when his Crane Bank delayed to find a suitable credible investor to acquire shares in it to prevent BoU from closing it down. We are told the AKDF member had so far spent $0.2m (over Shs1bn) in legal fees defending what the AKDF network legal brains considered to be a malicious suit filed by Sudhir regarding the Nakasero Plot 80 which until a few years ago used to be a washing bay.
Our investigations revealed that beyond the Nakasero Plot 80, Sudhir has had other business rivalries with the powerful AKDF network which globally boasts of over 30m wealthy followers scattered in different parts of the world. The first fallout resulted from the former CMI land at the Mulago round about which government bureaucrats leased to Sudhir. This was years after the President had secretly entertained as proposal by the AKDF group to set up Aga Khan teaching hospital meant to be like the branch for Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi where many wealthy Ugandans fly for specialized treatment.
In the end, Museveni donated another land in Naguru to appease the disgruntled Aga Khan Group bosses where the hospital facility will be erected. The ground breaking was done two years ago and Museveni, who is a good friend of the Aga Khan, personally attended and presided over. Even when they got alternative land, the Aga Khan Group bosses have never stopped cursing Sudhir for scooping them on the CMI land. The Group also accuses him of conducting banking business in a manner that deliberately prejudiced their Diamond Trust Bank (DBT) which closely competed with his Crane Bank.
Because of his ability to gratify and win over many people who mattered in targeted institutions, Sudhir always had his Crane deeply outsmart the hapless Indians managing DTB. Sudhir’s decision to go into education investments a few years ago was clearly interpreted as an attack on the financial interests of the Aga Khan Group. “It eliminated doubts that were still lingering in the heads of the few progressive officials in the Aga Khan Group and they all concluded this man was out to dwarf them. They had for long monopolized the provision of high-quality international curriculum education in Uganda which Sudhir challenged and they reacted by taking things personal,” said reliable sources.
Since acquiring Kampala parents from his Crane Bank client Kasole Bwerere Lwanga, Sudhir has been consolidating his presence in the education sector with his latest acquisitions being Delhi International Public School and Victoria University whose emphasis on Science disciplines clearly competes with Aga Khan University based in Old Kampala near Law Development Center. We are told the two groups at some point considered running to President Museveni seeking his patronage against the other but the big man from Rwakitura feels more obliged to be nice to Aga Khan more in order to atone the loss he made in the Air Uganda venture which failed largely because of the regulatory inadequacies on part of the Ugandan government.
The other thing that caused the executives of the AKDF to misunderstand Dr. Sudhir was when he went into leisure and hospitality industry where the Aga Khan Group is also very strong with international level facilities like Serena Hotel. With his Sanyu fm, Sudhir is also into media where Aga Khan Group has NTV, KFM, Ddembe fm and Daily Monitor. The Group has also for decades been entrenched in insurance business with Jubilee which faces stiff competition with Sudhir’s Gold Star Insurance. It’s only the Aga Khan group that rivals and dwarfs Sudhir when it comes to owning prime properties in Kampala Central Business District.
The AKDF monster properties include the Serena facilities, IPS Building near Parliament, Diamond Trust Building just to mention a few. They also own Victoria Serena in Kigo where it overlooks Lake Victoria. Their Serena ably competes with Sudhir’s Speke Resort Munyonyo and Kabira Country Club. This explains existence of a silent war over who should host international conferences brought by government-is it Serena or Speke Resort Munyonyo? The coming on board of Nsambya-based Mestil hotel has only made things more complicated between the AKDF and Sudhir leisure and hospitality business entities. “He [Sudhir] is challenging them in every area of investment except energy and Museveni trusts the Aga Khan Group the way he trusts Sudhir whose declaration by the Forbes Magazine as the richest man in East Africa also unsettled many in the Aga Khan Group. They saw it as an insult to His Highness Aga Khan who has deliberately been investing not just in Uganda but in the whole of the East African region,” remarked one of the many knowledgeable intelligence sources we spoke to for this article. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).