Mugabe's government was bankrupt as the rival Movement for Democratic Change won the most votes in parliamentary and first-round presidential elections.
The source of a controversial $100-million loan that allegedly made it possible for President Robert Mugabe to steal the 2008 Zimbabwean election is a major US institutional investor, the Mail & Guardian can reveal.
The payment, which critics say helped Mugabe's Zanu-PF to buy votes and unleash a campaign of brutal repression in an election in which he faced almost certain defeat, was made possible by the New York-based Och-Ziff Capital Management Group.
Mugabe's government was bankrupt and teetering as the rival Movement for Democratic Change won the most votes in parliamentary and first-round presidential elections. Facing a trouncing in the runoff against the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe needed money fast.
So his government sold the family silver – or rather platinum concessions freshly squeezed from South Africa's Anglo American Platinum. The ultimate buyer was a mining company founded by former English cricketer Phil Edmonds. On top of the purchase price, the company threw in the $100-million (then R780-million) lifeline.
That much is known. But Edmonds's Central African Mining and Exploration Company (Camec), then listed in the United Kingdom, did not have that kind of cash. So it did what listed companies do – issue and sell new shares.
Contrary to listing rules, the purchaser of the shares was not revealed, which meant that the ultimate source of the money remained a mystery. That source, it now turns out, was Och-Ziff.
Although it has about $30-billion in assets under management, Och-Ziff has kept a low profile. Closer to home, it is best known for its joint venture with Mvelaphanda Holdings, the private investment vehicle part owned by Human Settlements Minister and presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale.
Although the partnership, then cast as "exclusive", had been announced only months before, Mvelaphanda denies having participated in the Zimbabwe deal. The M&G is not aware of evidence to the contrary.
It is surprising that Och-Ziff was willing to finance the Zimbabwean loan despite the likelihood that Mugabe, whom Western governments opposed implacably, would use it to fuel repression.
Och-Ziff declined to comment.
Step 1: Squeeze
Less than a week before Zimbabwe went to the first-round polls, its most tightly contested yet, Mugabe bagged a prize asset. Anglo American Platinum, the world's top platinum producer, ceded more than a quarter of its platinum concessions in Zimbabwe to the government.
The deal had elements of a "shakedown" – Anglo was over a barrel, not least because foreign exchange due to it had been frozen by the authorities – but the cession did not happen for free. In return, Anglo was granted empowerment credits and foreign exchange indulgences that would allow it to develop a valuable remaining concession.
Step 2: Flip
Immediately after Anglo had been relieved of its concessions, the government awarded them to Todal Mining, a joint venture between the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (40%) and a private company, Lefever Finance (60%).
Lefever was owned by the opaque Meryweather Investments, registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Meryweather's ownership remains a mystery, but it has been associated with Billy Rautenbach, a close Mugabe ally who allegedly fronted for Zanu-PF or its functionaries in business deals.
Rautenbach was placed under European and United States sanctions later that year for allegedly supporting Mugabe's regime. At the time, he was also wanted on criminal charges in South Africa. But in a 2009 plea bargain with South African prosecuting authorities Rautenbach pleaded guilty, on behalf of one of his companies, to 326 fraud charges. He paid a R40-million fine.
Rautenbach did not respond to requests for comment.
Step 3: Cash in
The parliamentary and first-round presidential elections were held on March 29 2008. Although the electoral commission initially withheld the results, Mugabe was on the ropes and he knew it.
Less than a fortnight after the vote, the regime turned the platinum assets into instant cash. This is how it was done:
On April 11 Camec, then chaired by Edmonds, bought Lefever for $5-million cash plus millions of newly issued Camec shares. That went to the owners of Meryweather, whoever they were. But in a stock exchange announcement Camec confirmed also that it had "agreed to advance to Lefever [which it had just bought] an amount of $100-million by way of a loan to enable Lefever to comply with its contractual obligations to the government of the republic of Zimbabwe".
In a nutshell, Camec had acquired 60% of the platinum assets by buying out the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation's joint-venture partner in Todal Mining. For this it paid largely by issuing new shares in itself – but it supplemented the purchase price with the instant cash loan.
Unusually, although the corporation was to repay the $100-million, it went straight to the Zanu-PF government. Its chairperson, Godwills Masimirembwa, told the M&G this week: "It was a loan to the government; the money was used by the government. We don't know how it was used."
He claimed there was "no anomaly" in the corporation having to repay it as "we are wholly owned by government".
But Masimirembwa also revealed just how "soft" the terms were: no repayments have been made because they were to come from dividends, of which there had been none. And no interest was payable.
Step 4: Buy victory
In the weeks to follow and pending the all-important presidential runoff on June 27, Zanu-PF went on the offensive. Amid acute food shortages, it directed government food aid to reward supporters. And despite crippling fuel shortages, it deployed security forces and party thugs across Zimbabwe on a campaign of mass intimidation.
Mugabe won after Tsvangirai pulled out at the last moment, citing the violence and Zanu-PF threats of war.
Roy Bennett, MDC treasurer and a member of senate, said this week: "It was public fact that the Zanu-PF government had completely collapsed the Zimbabwean economy. Hyperinflation was a fact; the army had been rioting in public due to a lack of wages; all civil servants had not been paid for months.
"The massive deployment to carry out a violent campaign needed funding. Is it coincidental that the Zimbabwe government was loaned $100-million from Camec … after extortion was applied to Anglo to release the platinum deposits which Camec purchased? I would leave it to readers' imagination where that money was used."
Camec was pummelled in the British press, but the company shrugged it off, reportedly saying major shareholders had been consulted and it believed "investing in Zimbabwe at this early stage is the best way to help the people of Zimbabwe while generating shareholder value".
But who paid?
Och-Ziff's role in providing the money that Camec used to extend the loan remained hidden. However, it may be pieced together from Camec's 2008 annual report and reading between the lines of Camec announcements at the Alternative Investment Market, where it was listed.
The annual report shows that at the end of March 2008 – 11 days before the Zimbabwe deal – Camec had cash holdings of £17.9-million (then about $36-million), not remotely enough.
However, it had another £37.5-million (about $75-million) in escrow – prepayment by a new investor for new shares Camec would issue.
A Camec announcement earlier that March shows that the original purpose of the new share issue was to raise cash to develop Camec assets in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But on March 28 – five days after Anglo had relinquished the concessions to the government and a day before the first-round elections – Camec put out another announcement saying that "following further discussions with the placees [the new would-be investors] regarding the multiple investment opportunities available to the company in Africa", it would enlarge the share issue to raise more money – 200-million shares for £100-million (about $200-million).
On April 11 another announcement made it clear that the "multiple investment opportunities" really centred on the Zimbabwe acquisition that day and would be paid for, among other things, through the $100-million loan.
The context shows that the "placees" who had been consulted about this acquisition were mainly one new investor, who bought 150-million of the 200-million new Camec shares. The purchase consideration for the 150-million shares was £75-million (about $150-million) – enough for the Zimbabwe loan and some to spare.
Alternative Investment Market rules require the disclosure of substantial shareholdings – more than 3% and then each 1% that follows. Although the 150-million shares at the time equated to about 10% of Camec, the purchaser's identity was not declared.
The missing piece of the puzzle came in another announcement at the end of July in which a company called OZ Management said that another Camec share issue had diluted its holding – which it put at 150-million shares.
OZ Management is a subsidiary of Och-Ziff. The firm did not deny that it was the purchaser of the 150-million shares ahead of the Zimbabwe deal, but declined to comment.
A 'resourceful' philanthropist
Billionaire hedge fund manager Daniel Och, the founder, chairperson and chief executive of Och-Ziff, enjoys philanthropy and skiing, if his somewhat rare interviews are anything to go by.
He sits on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation, an anti-poverty organisation in New York City, and owns two homes worth $30-million in the United States ski-resort town of Aspen, Colorado, according to the Denver Post.
Och-Ziff describes itself as "one of the largest institutional alternative asset managers in the world" and has an estimated $30.3-billion of assets under management.
In January 2008, less than three months before the Zimbabwe deal, Och-Ziff announced a new African partnership: a joint venture between itself, Tokyo Sexwale's Mvelaphanda Holdings and the Palladino Holdings of Walter Hennig, a Sexwale associate.
The venture, Africa Management Limited, purported to be Och-Ziff and Mvela's "exclusive" vehicle for African investments "with a bias towards natural resources and related businesses".
At the time, Mvela chief executive Mark Willcox told the Sunday Times about Och-Ziff: "Although their investment process includes rigorous due diligence, they can move remarkably quickly and be innovative too."
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.
Africa Management Limited and its three partner companies have since emerged in various mining and oil deals across the continent, although the exclusive nature of the partnership appears not to have lasted.