Former Transport minister Nicholas Goche has been sucked into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of $3 million belonging to the government-owned Central Mechanical Equipment Department (CMED). Evidence presented to investigators probing the theft of the money also says the President’s Office knew about Goche’s alleged involvement but made efforts to protect him for political reasons.
Goche is one of the many ministers that were booted out of Cabinet and fired from Zanu PF last year on allegations of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe.
According to documents of a disciplinary hearing which led to the firing of CMED managing director Davison Mhaka this week, the President’s Office knew, through its investigations, that Goche allegedly had a hand in the misappropriation of the money but chose to protect him.
A 470-page document that carries minute detail of the $3 million scandal where government paid for fuel which was never delivered, was obtained by this paper last week.
According to the document, the government is alleged to have roped in Goodwills Masimirembwa as the parastatal’s board chair sometime in June last year, in an alleged effort to kill incriminating evidence that would have led to the prosecution of senior government officials involved in the matter.
In his evidence during the disciplinary hearing, Mhaka told the committee that he was being sacrificed in the matter after refusing to take orders from Masimirembwa to falsely incriminate fuels manager, one Brian Manjengwa, who was being falsely accused of colluding with First Oil directors to swindle CMED.
Mhaka said Masimirembwa drafted a statement on his behalf with the intention of incriminating Manjengwa on the basis that the latter “was a problem” and ought to go, and when he refused to play ball, Mhaka said: “As a result of that, he was very much irritated, I got a vitriolic letter.”
Asked by his lawyer what efforts he made to establish the whereabouts of the CMED cash, Mhaka said he attempted to meet Mugabe himself.
“I went to a number of offices. I highlighted that I went to the president’s chief secretary’s office,” he said. “I went to the office of (then Transport) minister Obert Mpofu who had come in….I went to see the director-general again but I couldn’t come up with anything in terms of where exactly the money was.
“I also went to the State House as I highlighted. Well, the first intention was to present my report to his Excellency, the president, but I couldn’t. “I ended up discussing with the principal director, Dr Tizora, of the State House, who then highlighted some of the issues which disturbed me, which eventually became reality.” Mhaka said Tizora showed him a copy of a document which had already been authored to the effect that he [Mhaka[ was going to be suspended sometime in August this year and that his suspension would open “a Pandora’s box”. He added: “Dr Tizora said to me, ‘look, we know what is happening. The information that we have is that the Gula-Ndebele report was meant to protect Nick,’ and then I said to him, ‘who is Nick?’ and then he said to me, ‘Nick refers to former Minister of Transport, the Honourable NT Goche’.” Efforts to contact Goche for comment were fruitless up to the time of publication. Asked if he had any indications of where the money was, Mhaka said he had information which he obtained from a businessman, one Nkululeko Sibanda, who sent him a text message saying he had been called by Goche to his farm. “He went to his farm and when he came back he indicated to me ‘I have been sent to South Africa. Mhaka, South Africa, that’s where your money went’.
I did not believe him at that time. On Friday he flew to South Africa,” Mhaka said. While in South Africa, Mhaka said Sibanda phoned him saying: “I have got the gentlemen who has your money and his name is Daniel Roscheffer.” When he asked him how much it was, Sibanda allegedly said he had seen a statement of $2 360 000.
Mhaka said bearing in mind CMED had transferred $2,7 million, he told Sibanda the money was not the amount they were looking for but he later decided to find out with his office. “When I was told that it was $2 360 000, I phoned the fuels manager to check the transfer copies and he confirmed to me that what actually went on the telegraphic transfer, the copies from the bank was $2 360 000, I was taken aback,” he said. Early this year, CMED filed a lawsuit against First Oil and its directors, Maxwell William Katunga, Lynon Gilbert Katunga, Alex Kudakwashe Mahuni, Gavin Allen Katunga, Mhaka and Manjengwa accusing them of swindling the government in a botched fuel deal.
But when the matter was taken to court and in a bid to clear its name, First Oil carried out investigations and established that instead, the cash was allegedly embezzled by ZB Bank, its finance director Phanuel Kapanje and Kiliana Bangure.
“The first defendant [First Oil] hereby prays for a stay of the present action pending the third party joinder of ZB Bank Limited, Phanuel Kapanje and Kiliana Bangure under rule 93 of this court’s rules,” First Oil said in its supplementary heads.
“These persons must indemnify the 1st defendant from any judgement that this court may enter against the 1st defendant.”
In its narration of events, First Oil said prior to the agreement with CMED on the fuel deal, it had never banked with ZB Bank but it opened an account with the financial institution at the instigation of the government-owned institution as the provider of funding in a structured finance arrangement.
The firm said it later transferred, through ZB Bank, $2,7 million into its account with the same bank at the Avondale branch and gave the institution strict instructions not to release the cash to fuel suppliers until given the greenlight to do so, but ZB Bank acted otherwise.
“The first defendant executed an MT 103/23 instruction to ZB Bank Limited to transfer $2 360 000 to Micro Petroleum Inc in Hong Kong as the purchase price of the plaintiff’s diesel consignment.
The effect of the instruction was that the bank would not release the money until confirmation of the satisfaction of the terms of the contract covered by the structured finance agreement,” First Oil said. “ZB Bank Limited deliberately ignored the MT 103/23 requirement to await confirmation of delivery and effected an EFT transfer and immediately effected transfer to Micro Petroleum Inc.” The firm said ZB Bank allegedly ignored the MT 103/23 instruction because Kapanje and Bangure had an existing arrangement with one Richard David Myburgh of South Africa, “to defraud” First Oil of the funds. The matter is pending at the High Court.