Editor’s note: In this article Ken Yamamoto, a researcher on Africa at a Tokyo Institute, questions President Robert Mugabe’s sincerity in dealing with the country’s corruption scourge. Yamamoto cites several historic scandals where little or no action was taken while those implicated were rewarded with top government posts. He suggests that Mugabe cannot be serious about fighting corruption while retaining in his cabinet ministers such as Obert Mpofu and Ignatius Chombo.
Yamamoto also cites several dodgy deals involving the First Lady, former RBZ Governor Gideon Gono as well as Gushungo Holdings which is owned by the Mugabes. He suggests that the reason the fight against corruption will not succeed is because the head of this mafia or yakuza-like operation sits in the highest office in the land. Readers are advised that the article is fairly long, but we decided to use it in full because it raises pertinent questions about the problem of corruption in Zimbabwe.
NEKO no kubi ni suzu o tsukeru is a Japanese proverb which literally means “putting a bell around a cat’s neck”. This means expecting or talking about something that is nearly impossible to do. Many Zimbabweans have of late mistakenly believed that President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF are now serious about fighting corruption. This belief is premised on no grounds at all other than, first, the natural desire to see the mess cleaned by the nanogenarian, and, second, the hope that after presiding for many years over a corrupt regime, Mugabe, may, after all be fed up of being in charge of a kleptocracy, and third and finally, the supposed linking by the thieves themselves of the wish list that is called ZIMASSET and its lofty ideals vis-à-vis corruption which is a hindrance to the supposed attainment of the economic plan’s objectives.
If anybody hopes that there will be a major crackdown on corruption in Zimbabwe, they had better scale their hopes down, because it is just not going to happen. And there are many reasons for concluding so.
Zimbabwe did not start decaying today. As a matter of fact, the decay of emerging economies that were once well-run happens over many years, and mainly happens gradually, well under the threshold of the average person’s consciousness. The decay tends to happen is small dozes over time. Zimbabwe’s decay and collapse of its moral fibre started way back in the 80’s and was allowed to slowly eat away the society’s fabric over decades. Many signs of this decay require carefully piecing them together, and if you are engrossed in them, you can hardly notice. It took me a long period of study of official documents and several visits to Zimbabwe to arrive at this empirical conclusion.
Looking at Mugabe’s leadership and history, he allowed his party to grandstand by adopting the leadership code in August 1984. At that time, the independence euphoria and the ruling class’ dying connection to the ideals of liberation struggle from the colonists was diminishing but still existent. This code did not survive beyond a few years. Mugabe and his lieutenants soon shredded it, engaging into all sorts of businesses. One very important trait among the ruling class in Zanu PF is that they all do not have strong competencies in running businesses, which led all of them to leverage on the national institutions to sustain these side-operations and opulent lifestyles, in the process pillaging the national fiscus.
The centre failed to hold right from independence and since then, the scandals have been popping out of the bottle one after another. To name but a few, these include the Paweni scandal (1982), National Railways Housing Scandal (1986), Air Zimbabwe Fokker Plane Scandal worth $100 million (1987), Zisco Steel blast Furnace Scandal (1987), Willowgate Scandal (1988), ZRP Santana Scandal (1989), War Victims Compensation Scandal (1994), GMB Grain Scandal (1995), VIP Housing Scandal (1996), Boka Banking Scandal (1998), ZESA YTL Soltran Scandal (1998), – Harare City Council Refuse Tender Scandal (1998), Housing Loan Scandal (1999), Noczim Scandal (1999), – DRC timber and diamond UN reported scandals (1999), GMB Scandal (1999), – Ministry of water and rural development Chinese tender scandal (1999), Harare Airport Scandal (2001), pillaging and milking of Ziscosteel (2005-8), pillaging of diamonds in Chiadzwa (2006-present), the Airport Road Scandal (2008-2014), the perpetual milking of Zimbabwe and the pillaging of the central bank under Gideon Gono . The catch here is, these scandals that stink to high heavens only became such simply because they slipped into the public domain. You can imagine the high level corruption that does not slip into the public domain and takes place under the public radar.
The rate of corruption and scandals has increased significantly after independence turning into a precarious and evil spiral that has supped the energy out of this small southern African state, worsening from the early 90s and spiralling out of control this turn of the millennium. Corruption of an opportunistic and greedy nature bloomed from 1980 to about 1988. From that period to around 1999, there was a sudden surge and growth of a political mafia elite that extensively fuelled network-type corruption. After that period, the type of corruption morphed into a patronage form which was severely backed by politicians. Today, under Mugabe’s leadership, corruption has permeated Zimbabwe’s moral fabric like a cancer, to an extent that Zimbabwe fast rivals Nigeria with police collecting bribes like toll fees at roadblocks.
The Italian Mafia is quite influential, and so was the Japanese yakuza. Such criminal bands are led by a godfather. The only difference between Zanu PF and the mafia or the yakuza is that the latter are illicit organisations operating on the fringes of the formal system. However, in Zimbabwe, Mugabe actually leads a looting mafia which has presided over the country’s decline year after year, decade after decade, churning out corruption scandal after another. He is the godfather of the looting clan. Zimbabwe is a sad and typical case where a mafia mobster runs the government led by a godfather wearing the official robes of a State president.
Almost every corruption scandal in Zimbabwe invariably involves a major politician, and the politicians protect their fronts from persecution. No politician associated with any of the major corruption scandals has ever been prosecuted. In the extreme cases, it’s the weak small fish that get slapped at the knuckles while the big fish walk away scot free. In The Paweni scandal, the late Kumbirai Kangai, who authorised payment of fake invoices was never sanctioned, while Paweni was jailed. Kangai remained a cabinet minister for decades after the scandal and went on to preside over the Ministry of Agriculture years later, further engaging in subsequent pillaging of the GMB from which the parastatal has never recovered to date. Nothing happened to Kangai and he died a ‘respected’ senator.
It would take a whole book to look at each and every corruption scandal. But a few would emphasize that Mugabe actually leads, rewards and consorts with the thieves in government. Ministers that were dismissed from government by Mugabe over the Willowgate scandal are today at the top of the system in Zimbabwe. Fredrick Shava is today addressed as “His Excellency”, walking the diplomatic corridors as Ambassador of Zimbabwe in China. This appointment is done by Mugabe himself. Jacob Mudenda, a proven crook during the Willowgate scandal who, as governor of a Mateleland province, illegally sold Scania trucks at exorbitant prizes to a Zanu PF-linked company – Tregers, is today the Speaker of Parliament in Zimbabwe, effectively addressed as ‘Mr Speaker, Sir”. True to his old ways, he has recently been accused of trying to stifle debate on corruption in Parliament.
Proven Willowgate crook now Speaker of Parliament … Jacob Mudenda
Ziscosteel, once the largest integrated steelworks in Africa north of the Limpopo was sucked dry by Zanu PF vampires. Today , it’s a pale shadow of its former self, and has been sold off to an Indian company, Essar. Investigations done by National Economic Conduct Inspectorate (NECI) in 2009 revealed that Mugabe’s ministers such as Samuel Mumbengegwi, Olivia Muchena, Sithembiso Nyoni, Joice Mujuru, the late Stan Mudenge and Patrick Chinamasa all inappropriately and corruptly took payments from Ziscosteel.
Obert Mpofu, then Minister of Industry, was impeached by Parliamentarians in 2009 for admitting that Ziscosteel had been looted and milked out by senior government officials and latter prevaricating on that position. Mpofu had appeared before a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, Industry and International Trade that was investigating the collapse of a $400 million deal to capitalise Ziscosteel by Global Steel Holdings.
While Mpofu was giving evidence at the parliamentary committee hearing on September 20 2009, a clerk appeared and delivered an urgent message to committee chairman Enock Porusingazi that Mpofu was wanted straight away by Vice President Joice Mujuru. Mpofu immediately left the hearing and went to meet Mujuru who told him to shut up. By the time he came back, he was denying that he knew anything about the looting frenzy at the steel company. He was fined $40,000. After his stint in the ministry, Mpofu was moved to preside over the Mining Ministry after which he became fabulously wealthy, and now owns a bank among other assets.
Joice Mujuru recently exposed herself as a corrupt mafioso when she was recorded at a party meeting saying the recent exposures of corruption were “the work of subversive elements trying to destroy Zanu PF and its government from within”. Mujuru is a heartbeat away from the Presidency of Zimbabwe. She actually acts as the president of Zimbabwe in Mugabe’s absence. If Mugabe was not himself corrupt, Mujuru should have resigned soon after making those utterances or get fired by Mugabe, but today the two preside at the apex of power in Zimbabwe.
Mujuru has bungled throughout her career as a minister. Zimbabweans may recall that she was the Minister who worked overtime to prevent Strive Masiyiwa from setting up Econet, a company that’s arguably Zimbabwe’s largest direct and indirect employer today. She also looted the War Victims Compensation Fund claiming to be 55% disabled and collected a cool Z$389 472, which was a handsome amount back then.
In 2009, Firstar Europe reported that Mujuru tried to sell them $90 million worth of gold, which had a purported origin of the DRC. She tried to sell the gold, according to British media via her son-in-law who is Spanish. Mujuru’s daughter, Nyasha is married to a Spanish man called Del Campo. The Vice President of Zimbabwe is reported to have threatened Firstar with consequences if they did not reverse their decision to refuse buying the gold.
During the looting frenzy of diamonds from the Chiadzwa area, Mujuru and her late husband were prominent names, illegally collecting diamonds en-masse from the area. She had her own claim famously referred to as “chitutu chaMai Mujuru”. So did Grace Mugabe, the President’s wife.
Webster Shamu on the other hand is Mugabe’s party’s political commissar, an equivalent of a chief mobiliser of the party. Shamu, formerly known as Charles Ndlovu, has long had mafia-style crooked streak his entire life. Shamu left the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation for Mozambique before Zimbabwe’s independence to avoid paying debts he owed. He achieved notoriety in the 80s when he allegedly embezzled over Z$50,000 from the Central Film Laboratories that he headed.
A 1987 US embassy cable described him, when he was appointed a deputy minister of youth sport and culture by Mugabe in 1987 just after the unity accord, as; “Charles Ndlovu… is new to the cabinet and takes over this position from Amos Midzi who is no longer in government. Ndlovu, … was once a disc jockey with the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corp. He left for Maputo in the mid-1970’s where he became a broadcaster on “the Voice of Zimbabwe”. In the early 1980’s, he was named head of production services in the Ministry of Information, and in 1985 he became head of the parastatal Central Film Laboratories. … Ndlovu is considered a party hack with fairly close ties to Mugabe… he was moved from the Ministry of Information to Central Film Labs in 1985 after a scandal in which an alleged Z$50,000 was embezzled from the department of production services through a false payroll scheme. The department’s accountant committed suicide, but Ndlovu… was saved, probably through his ties with Mugabe. Though married, Ndlovu is well known as a womanizer and heavy drinker”.
Shamu, in 1985 had been involved in pillaging the Central Film Laboratories of a lot of money via a false payroll. In other words, he had ghost workers on the payroll. Mugabe rewarded him a couple of years later by appointing him as a deputy minister a year before the Willowgate theft went into full gear. Now, is it any wonder that Shamu recently presided as Minister over the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which had several ghost workers including his wife Constance, who earned herself a cool US$11,000 a month without going to work? If corrupt behaviour is rewarded with powerful appointments, then there is no incentive for the Mafioso not to be corrupt. There is always a good reward for being the ‘baddest’ guy in the mafia and yakuza!
The Japanese saying ‘Atama kara sakana no fuhai’ means a fish rots from the head. Controversial businessman Nick Van Hoogstraten once claimed that Mugabe is incorruptible. That’s an outlandish claim from an ex-convict looking for a home after his troubles in the UK. The reason Mugabe will not arrest anyone for corruption is because he is very corrupt and is the biggest beneficiary of the vice.
The first official confirmation of Mugabe’s fingers in the corruption jar came out in a 1992 report published by the US Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. Then, senators John Kerry and Hank Brown led thorough investigations into the operations of the large Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). BCCI was an elaborate criminal corporate spider-web set up and led by sleek Pakistani banker named Agha Hasan Abedi, with significant funding from the ruler of Abu Dhabi and then President and founder of United Arab Emirates – Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed al Nahyan.
In the 1992 report, entitled “The BCCI Affair: A Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate”, BCCI would make direct payments to key officials, sometimes in suitcases filled with cash. Nazir Chinoy, a BCCI official told the committee that Abedi paid both Robert Mugabe who was then the Prime Minister, to fast track setting up the joint venture that became BCCI in Zimbabwe. He also paid Joshua Nkomo who was Mugabe’s opposing number across the Zimbabwean political aisle. Chinoy argued that there is no way a foreign bank would have set up in Zimbabwe the way BCCI did without paying the Prime Minister ‘given the opposition of the British banks who were already established there’.The same report notes that BCCI’s Third World Foundation invited Mugabe in 1988 to present an award to Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Norweigian Prime Minister, because Mugabe routinely received cash payments from the bank.
To the uninitiated, BCCI is the predecessor of present day CBZ Bank from which the previous central bank governor, Gideon Gono, and the just appointed central bank governor John Mangudya hailed. Readers may also not be aware that BCCI was very much at the centre of the Willowgate scandal. BCCI manager Ashrat Aktar issued the bank certified cheques to employees of Naran, a sleazy businessman, who was acting in cahoots with Calistus Ndlovu, then Minister of Industry and Technology. It was a refund from one of these cheques that was misdirected to Obert Mpofu, leading to a public spill of the corruption scandal.
The above evidence shows that Mugabe has always been at the core of corruption and bribery well from the time Zimbabwe got independent. And indeed it continued to do the rounds in his house. In 1995, a multi-million dollar National Housing Fund was set-up to build houses for middle income families. Houses were supposed to cost an average of Z$200,000. Middle income groups were supposed to contribute half while the government put forward another half to be paid back over time.
Instead of the targeted beneficiaries, the fund was hijacked and looted via a VIP housing scheme by greedy individuals, chief of whom was none other than Mugabe’s young wife, Grace. She build herself a Z$5,89 million mansion, later dubbed the Gracelands, which if properly used could have built middle-income house for twenty-nine families. She never lived in the house. She spun it off for a handsome profit to the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi through the Libyan Embassy in Harare.
Justice George Smith at the High Court in 1997 recommended that the looting of the fund be investigated and the culprits be brought to book. But Mugabe and his wife were million-dollar beneficiaries of the theft and there is no way they could have investigated themselves. Because, the godfather was looting, the Mafioso also did and no one could police the police. Augustine Chihuri also looted from this fund and built himself a $1,1 million house. So did high court judge Paddington Garwe.
In 1995, a tender was floated for a new airport terminal in Harare. Air Harbour Technologies, a company that had been rated number four by the state tender board was awarded the tender, not by the tender board, but by Mugabe’s cabinet. The firm had links to Leo Mugabe, the President’s nephew as well as Zanu PF’s company, ZIDCO Holdings. Hani Yamani, a Saudi national, was to later rue the project as he complained bitterly to Mugabe after being asked to pay excessive kickbacks. He was further asked to fund the construction of Mugabe’s “Blue Roof” mansion in Borrowdale in addition to making payments to senior cabinet ministers and ‘donating’ $50,000 to Mugabe’s Party Zanu PF (read protection fees).
Demanding Gideon Gono probe over RBZ looting … Munyaradzi Kereke
Munyaradzi Kereke, a former advisor to the central bank governor has launched a lawsuit with the recently constituted Constitutional Court. In spite of his flaws, he must be applauded for being an active citizen. He wants an order from the court compelling the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and the Prosecutor General to investigate his former boss Gideon Gono for looting the central bank dry. He has supplied the court with documentary evidence of the looting. Gono has been a ‘personal’ banker to Mugabe and his family. One of the cases Kereke wants Gono to be impeached on is for looting central bank funds after the latter imported sub-standard fertiliser from a South African commodities firm called Intshona.
At the time the fertiliser scandal unfolded, instead of investigating and arresting the culprits, Mugabe promptly moved to dismiss the Ministry’s permanent secretary, Simon Pazvakavambwa, immediately replacing him with Shadreck Mlambo. Pazvakavambwa refused to suffer alone and threatened to squeal out information on how Gideon Gono and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made allegedly connived to import the 70,000 tonnes of sub-standard fertilizer from South Africa. Faced with the threat of revelation, Mugabe changed the dismissal and reassigned him as a Secretary without Portfolio in the President’s Office.
Pazvakavambwa’s political boss was Joseph Made, now Minister of Agriculture. It is important to note that Joseph Made has worked, much like a farm manager, at Mugabe’s farms. Mugabe’s first farm – Highfield farm has a history to it. This farm, about 3km from the small town of Norton’s Katanga business centre is a mammoth 385,2494 ha. It was acquired by the state under a veil of secrecy in 1996 from one Marion Betty Munson for Z$2,5 million. The former owner agreed to sell the land after sustained mafia-style intimidation from the President. In 1999, the DDF constructed a 10km tarred stretch off Mugabe’s highway to Zvimba, for access to this farm using state resources.
While Mugabe’s corrupt and personal accumulation of wealth started right from the time he got into government in 1980 as noted in the BCCI affair, it was exacerbated when he married a much younger wife. Grace Mugabe, ever a butterfly character with an indefatigable penchant for spending, honed Mugabe into a corruption vortex bordering on gross mafia-style abuse of power. During a trip to France in 2003 for example, she was widely reported to have spent an equivalent of $120,000 or £75,000, shopping. Having borne Mugabe the children he had never had, it was easy for Grace to remind the ageing President that he could not leave his children behind with nothing. From the moment that Grace became the First Lady, she was quickly dubbed the first shopper.
Grace, was a mere secretary, devoid of common street wisdom, before she got the keys to the seat of power. She was also tired of being compared by Zimbabweans to Sally Hayfron, Mugabe’s late wife. She tried a double strategy of improving her qualifications while setting herself up as a credible businesswoman. The former is a strategy generally used in Zimbabwe to try to gain respect among peers. This can be seen from former governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Gideon Gono’s desire to have a PhD, which he got online from a diploma mill in the United States, the unaccredited Atlantic International University.
The same can be seen, too, from the recently appointed governor of the same bank, John Mangudya who again ‘acquired’ his PhD from the unaccredited and discredited Washington International University. Degrees therefore matter among Zimbabweans, even if they are questionable and dubious, unlike among the Japanese where contribution to society is viewed more with reverence. Needless to say that Grace did not have the intellectual gravitas to withstand the academic rigours of obtaining a university first degree. She then turned her attention to setting up a legitimate business as a way of cleaning up the dirty money from bribes and general looting of diamonds, other minerals and sustained pillaging of the central bank.
Former junior University of Zimbabwe lecturer now wealthy minister … Ignatius Chombo
The mysterious wealth that Gono and Ignatious Chombo made from the time they became powerful in government is inextricably linked to their link to Grace Mugabe and the President. Ignatius Chombo was in 1995 a mere junior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. At one time while doing some journal paper review at that university, I was told by a senior academic faculty that Chombo once applied to be a Dean of Students, but was turned down by the late Gordon Chavhunduka because he did not qualify. A few years later, Chavhunduka found himself reporting to Chombo who had become Minister of Higher Education in a sudden twist of fate.
A look at these two gentlemen (Gono and Chombo) is important to focus on the accumulation of wealth by Robert Mugabe and his wife. While Mugabe in public preaches a one-man-one-farm policy, Grace Mugabe, despite them owning Highfields Farm in Norton, went on a country tour checking out farms to take over in 2002, and eventually settled on Iron Mask Farm in the Mazoe region north west of Harare. The farm was previously owned by one John and Eva Mathews. Grace took it over under the guise of setting up an orphanage there. However, she has since built a very expensive school in the area which can only be afforded by the richest folks in Zimbabwe. A diplomat in Zimbabwe advised me that because the enrolment at the school is low, when Grace travels on official trips, she coaxes officials in Mugabe’s entourage to send their children to her school because she will be aware of how much they made in per diem allowances during the trip.
To date, Grace has helped herself to over 1600 hectares of land owned by Interfresh, a listed horticultural concern in Zimbabwe, now owned by indigenous Zimbabweans, forcing the company to write off over $5 million worth of biological assets and lay off thousands of employees. In addition, she has pushed for the removal of gold miners in the Mazoe valley, using state security. As if it’s not enough, as I write, she is reported to be behind the eviction of villagers from Manzou Estate in the Mazoe area to set up a game park. While I was carrying out my research in Zimbabwe weeks ago, she did not hide her appetite for more land as she appeared on local TV telling visiting former first lady of Ghana that she wanted more land for her projects.
In 2003, Mr Justice Ben Hlatswayo, then a High Court Judge, but now kicked upstairs as a judge of the Supreme Court, in contravention of the court order he had previously issued, went to Banket and took over Vernon Nicole’s 580 hectare farm by snatching away keys for the farmhouse from the maid. Five years later, he learnt that someone else higher up in the pecking order could also do the same when Grace fell in love with crops on the fields. He was summoned by three cabinet ministers Didymus Mutasa, Patrick Chinamasa and Joseph Made where he was told that the First Lady had fallen in love with his farm and was taking it.
Lost on the irony of it all, Hlastwayo launched a court application, submitting in the court affidavit that “there is clearly no lawful basis [for Gushungo Holdings]intent upon imposing its will regardless of observing due process of the law”. Needless to say, Justice Hlatswayo later realised that some animals are more equal than others and that some are above the law as no judge wanted to hear his case. He eventually gave up on it and went on to invade an 800 hectare part of Kent Estate, a 4500 hectare farm owned by the listed company, Ariston Holdings in Mashonaland West province.
Multi-million $ kitting of dairy firm at a time country had no forex … Grace Mugabe right
Having failed in her academic endeavours, Grace’s actions all point to not only to a concerted effort to build an empire, but also build some featherbeddings in the event that the nanogenarian President passes on. All her designs over the years point to what is now known as Gushungo Holdings, which includes a company called Alpha and Omega Dairy. Alpha and Omega Dairy is itself built on an operation Grace took over when she invaded Foyle Farm which was then one of the largest dairy farms in Zimbabwe.
To understand how corruption, pillage and illegality factor in the foregoing issues, the Gono and Chombo dimension comes in. There is ongoing litigation in the constitutional court in Zimbabwe where Munyaradzi Kereki, is suing the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission for not investigating, former central bank governor Gideon Gono. Kereke alleges that Gono stole over $37,5 million from state coffers during his tenure. Kereke has evidence he preserved and is happy to provide to the court and prosecutors.
Grace Mugabe a few years ago bought trucks worth $1 million via a front – Ping Sung Hsieh, an Asian businessman. Hsieh, perhaps with the benefit of knowing that the money was stolen, defrauded the first family of the entire amount. As they normally do, the Mugabe’s abused state resources by using Zimbabwe’s state apparatus to do debt collection in pursuit of Hsieh. They first used and abused the state in an attempt to get Hsieh extradited from South Africa, where he is a resident. Then attorney-general Johannes Tomana visited South Africa a number of times to ensure Hsieh’s extradition.
When that failed, Hsieh, who is apparently a much smarter crook than the first family, bought four sub-standard trucks from South Africa and hired four drivers, Cassimjee Bilal (28) Henry Radebe (57) Samuel Risimati Baloyi and Sydney Masilo (40) to drive the truck and dump them at the first family’s farm in Mazoe. Eager to exact revenge on Hsieh, Grace further abused the state by getting the four drivers arrested in Zimbabwe on February 20 2011. In a vain and rather naïve attempt to cover up the corruption and blatant abuse of power by the President and his wife, Grace’s aide and VIP protection officer, Olga Bungu, who has since been promoted to a deputy commissioner general in the Zimbabwe Republic Police was the complainant in the case.
In her court papers, Bungu claimed the money stolen by Hsieh had been transferred to his company Chantrea Trading, in August 2008 from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. This is the juicy part. Zimbabweans will recall that August 2008 was at the peak of Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation. There was a critical shortage of hard currency and Gono used street runners to buy greenbacks off the street, purportedly for the state. August 2008 was also the time when Gono trimmed off almost nine zeroes from Zimbabwe’s currency and was the time when shops started refusing to accept the local currency, forcing him weeks later to introduce his infamous BACCOSSI and FOLIWAS initiatives. It was also the month when soldiers started running amok in the street of Harare in a clear case of unprecedented indiscipline, breaking and looting shops, and confiscating greenbacks from street dealers.
August 2008 was also the time when Zimbabwe’s shops ran completely empty after the Incomes and Pricing Commission led by a man Mugabe recently labelled as corrupt, Goodwills Masimirembwa, instructed shops to revert to July 18 2008 prices. It was also the period when Gono raided several foreign currency accounts owned by companies, individuals and NGOs. He has always maintained that all his actions were carried out at the instructions of his principals. This is why it is hilarious if not sad that Tendai Biti is representing Gideon Gono on Kereke’s case.
From the foregoing, it is easy to figure out how the mafia works as the state and helps itself to state resource, and uses state institutions like the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe as their personal bank, utilising the central bank governor as their personal banker from buying greenbacks off the street to paying out shady business associates who go on to con them.
So back to Kereke’s allegations, while the economy was declining, with a convenient excuse of sanctions, the President and his family were prospering. They built an unprecedented mansion in the plush surburb of Borrowdale, while at the same time building a business – Gushungo Holdings whose dairy operation has been described by the state media and the Grace herself as having state of the art equipment.
How could they afford to kit and equip their new business at a time when several decades old businesses were collapsing and buckling under the weight of an underperforming economy. One does not have to be a NASA astronaut to figure out that the President and his wife pillaged the Central Bank. Kereke is aware that the $37,5 million he alleges Gono stole is not just the only amount stolen from the central bank. If Gono indeed stole the millions, then it must be chicken feed compared to what was stolen by the first citizens.
Mugabe, in a fit of rage at a rally in Masvingo during the campaign trail on July 2013, described Kereke as “irresponsible, disobedient, non-compliant and disrespectful.” He further said, “If we don’t approve of you; you can’t impose yourself on the people. We will never accept you even if you have money. …. I have spoken in parables so those who have ears let them hear.” The message was delivered mafia style. Needless to say that the electorate did not listen to Mugabe as Kereke emerged victorious in the election. Many Zimbabweans do know that if it were not for Mugabe’s advanced age, Kereke would by now be a dead man prosecuting his litigation from the graveyard.
The trucks issue is not the only shady transaction connecting Gono and Hsieh. Contrary to Van Hoogstraten’s view that Mugabe is incorruptible, in fact the President has neither integrity nor probity at all. In the past, Mugabe has claimed that he does not own properties outside Zimbabwe and implored the British to take his properties and donate the money to charity wherever they see them in foreign lands. Of course one has to be foolish to expect the mafia to transact in their personal names. They would normally use fronts. The Yakuza in Japan uses genuine businesses to launder stolen funds.
The London Sunday Times exposed back in 2008 that the Mugabes owned a mansion in Hong Kong. Richard Jones, a photographer with the newspaper had a run-in with Grace Mugabe at the Shangri-La Hotel at the time when he photographed her in Hong Kong, earning himself a thrashing from the first lady who repeatedly punched him in the face and head, with her diamond ring causing bleeding and injuries to the photographer’s face and head.
During a TV interview with the ZBC, Mugabe lied to the nation of Zimbabwe, denying owning the property, but rather renting it. “We are paying rent. After they finish we will have nothing to do with that property at all,” He lied. “What do I do with a house in Hong Kong, really? We just want accommodation for our daughter and her friends ….This is not the first time I have been given a home. Last time they gave me a home in Scotland and another one in Malaysia,” he added at the time, tongue in cheek.
But the genie cannot be sealed in a bottle for long. As it turns out, the mercurial Hsieh may have conned the first family again. It is now in the public domain that the Mugabes, shamelessly using the state again to settle personal matters are suing Hsieh who boldly transferred the property into his own name. My sources at a law firm in Hong Kong, say that Hsieh convinced the Mugabes that he should keep the title deeds to the property which was purchased for $5 million. This gave him leverage over the family. It could have given Hsieh stronger guts to swindle the family if he was aware that the funds used were stolen from the state.
After his fallout with Grace over a mining venture in Zimbabwe, Hsieh transferred the property in his own name, leaving the first family with egg in their face. The Mugabes are pursuing the lawsuit at the High Court in Hong Kong using the Government of Zimbabwe as a front abusing state resources to mask them, in the process continuing the pillage of state resources. In their writ at the Hong Kong court in case number HCA 167/2014, the “Government of Zimbabwe” argues that Hsieh held the property in trust, obviously lost to the irony of the meaning of the word trust.
Hsieh, clear about the fact that it’s hard to collect the proceeds of theft by trying to sanitize it through a court process, and with the benefit of the title deeds, has through his lawyer, Mannie Witz, argued that, “They [Government of Zimbabwe fronting the Mugabes] don’t, for instance, show any evidence that the Mugabe family or the Zimbabwean government actually bought and own the property. They simply don’t show when, how and where they paid for the property, but we will show that our client bought it and it is his. We have the details of the purchase agreement, documents showing proof of payment and all the necessary transfers associated with the transaction. We have no doubt from the available documents that our client actually bought and owns the property.” Clearly, Hsieh outsmarted the Mugabes in a way that leaves the President in shame.
The juicy part however is not in the lawsuit and the egg on the President’s face. The property was purchased in 2008 at the height of Zimbabwe’s foreign currency shortages, perhaps with funds bought off the street and pillaged from foreign currency accounts by the Gideon Gono, then governor of the central bank. It was the same time Hsieh got the US$1 million to buy trucks for Gushungo Holdings. The property cost $5 million (HK$40 million) and the money was paid by the central bank. The question is, whose funds were used to buy the property.
Clearly, funds were looted and externalised from Zimbabwe’s central bank and a clever Asian businessman ran away with the loot and the Zimbabwean President cannot extra-territorially use his jack-boot methods against the obviously sleek and slippery Hsieh. It is also important to note that the property was acquired at the height of Zimbabwe’s foreign currency shortages. It’s also noteworthy that Tsvangirai vigorously pushed for Gono to be removed from the central bank as an “outstanding issue” in 2009 to no avail. Gono has therefore played his part as a runner for the first family, availing and carrying the so-called cash bag when it’s required.
Chombo, on the other hand, apart from being related to the ageing President, has also been involved in enriching the President’s family, particularly the insatiable first lady Grace. While visiting Zimbabwe last month carrying out research for my paper, a friend took me on a drive along Borrowdale Road. From the point where Borrowdale Road intersects with Harare Drive all the way to Crowhill Road intersection is a large tract of open land. Until several months ago, the property was owned by Eaglesvale, an elite private school. The school intended to build a campus on this piece of prime land to serve students in this posh neighbourhood.
Grace Mugabe, who uses this road all the time to and fro her hotel-like mansion near Borrowdale Brooke estate, fell in love with this vacant prime land. Before Eaglesvale School new it, she had fenced it up. It was then up to Chombo how he would regularise the takeover. But it’s not so bad for Chombo after all when he then cleans up the mess, because in the process of sanitising this madness, he also grabs the land of his own desires from the local authority.
Chombo’s massive property portfolio and riches were made public courtesy of the divorce proceedings with his ex-wife, Marian. Chombo who was a junior lecturer in the department of education at the University of Zimbabwe in the 90s, with not much to his name, has become very wealthy by Zimbabwean standards since his elevation into Mugabe’s inner circle. He has a large number of properties in almost every town, some of which are owned through front companies and individual proxies.
It has been suggested that some of the properties owned by Phillip Chiyangwa and his companies are fronts for Ignatious Chombo. He is also linked to the property development company called Platinum, fronted by former Premier Banking Corporation executive – Exodus Makumbe. Chombo has been fingered in scandals at ZUPCO, City of Harare and several other local authorities.
The scandal involving Augur Investments, a shadowy eastern European company that took over prime wetlands in Borrowdale for constructing the much-touted Mall of Zimbabwe can be traced to Ignatious Chombo, Mike Mahachi – former chairman of the Harare City Council in 2008, and his brother, Tendai Mahachi, the City of Harare town clerk. Mike Mahachi is now developing the office complex opposite Celebration church along Borrowdale Road.
Chombo is also linked to the shady deal involving businessman Farai Jere and the discredited former US congressman Reynolds, who was deported from Zimbabwe last month. Reynolds sold a dummy to Jere, City of Harare, Chombo, and others by purporting to represent Hilton Hotels and claiming they had an interest in building a five start hotel at East 24, near the Chapman Golf Club in Harare. At an event attended by Shamu, Chombo and Mzembi, the purported project was described as a milestone for tourism in Zimbabwe. The city of Harare was pushed to authorise the piece of land away to the project promoters as it was deemed a project of national importance. It was also linked to the botched airport road project as the road was said to terminate at this point near the CBD, allowing tourists to be driven straight from the airport to the hotel.
In spite of all the scams involving Chombo, he has never been arrested. This lack of prosecution of the minister is beyond his relationship with the President. It is more because he does the bidding of the first lady when she wants land in urban councils. He makes things happen when the first lady wants properties to build her own portfolio and enhance her business bona fides.
If Robert Mugabe wanted to fight corruption and white collar crime, he had the past thirty four years holding the levers of power to do it. But he did not. And he will not. In fact, Mugabe has stifled every effort and squandered every opportunity he had to fight corruption. He could, for instance, have built and empowered a crime-busting agency in the same mould as the Scorpions that South Africa had at some point.
Under pressure, Mugabe allowed the formation of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC). ZACC is a well-known toothless bulldog, which has neither prosecuted white collar crime nor gotten any conviction since it was formed. It has neither arresting nor prosecution powers. In fact, Munyaradzi Kereke is actually suing the commission for dereliction of duty for it did not investigate the alleged pillage of central bank cash by Gideon Gono. This matter is before the constitutional court of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s government made sure that ZACC was under-funded and under-resourced. The commission’s chairman, one Denford Chirindo, was a low-level staffer at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, under Gideon Gono. In fact Gono seconded Chirindo to the commission and funded most of its activities, according to papers filed by Kereke in court. The labour case in Zimbabwe’s courts, Savious Kufandada & Others v ZACC, in which employees were awarded over $1 million in damages and backpay – is testimony of how Mugabe ensured ZACC is severely underfunded.
To further weaken ZACC, Mugabe allowed other state agents to intimidate, bastardise and harass the anti-corruption commission. In 2013, the commission got search warrants to investigate cabinet ministers Saviour Kasukuwere, Obert Mpofu and Nicholas Goche. The commission also wanted to investigate Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and the National Indigenisation and Empowerment Board for shady deals which included the murky transactions involving Brainworks Capital. At that time, Sukai Tongogara, ZACC’s general manager in charge of investigations went into hiding after she was intimidated and threatened with arrest for her efforts to investigate the culprits.
Mugabe has also not ensured that the police are trained in investigating white collar crime. To the contrary, top Zimbabwean cops have been implicated in high level corruption. For example, Chibage, a senior assistant commissioner in the Zimbabwe Republic Police was last year retired for illegal conduct and racketeering. Instead, the top cop should have been arrested for violating the law. To make matters worse, Zimbabwe’s top cop, Commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri was himself implicated in a car-smuggling racket in the 90’s before his promotion. At that time, Chihuri corruptly authorised the release of stolen vehicles from the police depot in Southerton. He got away on a technicality as he had duped his predecessor, Henry Mukurazhizha, to sign off the release papers.
Mugabe has on occasion challenged people to come up with evidence to proof that his ministers are corrupt. It is almost obvious that the mafia hides its trail in illegal transactions. It should be obvious that taxpayers deserve better than a President who puts the onus upon citizens to bring evidence about his corruption and that of his corrupt ministers. Taxpayers pay tax so that policing and security agencies carry out investigations in line with their professional training and national mandate. It is the duty of investigating agencies to find the evidence and prosecute the crooked. But certainly not so in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans were hopeful that Mugabe would finally deal with corruption following the series of exposes made by the media about corruption in parastatals. But their hope is misplaced and misdirected. Mugabe, who inherited a fairly corrupt-less society at independence has never fought corruption and will not fight corruption. Not only is Mugabe too old and toothless to crack the whip, but he is knee-deep into high level corruption himself. He is also severely compromised by his wife who is also deeply involved in corruption. In fact, based on a trail of the evidence and scandals linked to Mugabe and his wife, he is the godfather of the mafia.
Ken Yamamoto is a researcher on Africa at an Institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently in Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Some of his research work is commissioned by global firms. You can contact Ken on firstname.lastname@example.org