Masimirembwa​ denies $6mn corruption charge

Former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) chairperson Godwills Masimirembwa has defended himself against allegations of corruption, saying President Robert Mugabe was misinformed about the $6-million diamond bribe scandal.

Masimirembwa was responding to claims by Mugabe last week that he received a $6-million bribe from a Ghanaian who wanted to partner the state-run mining firm in a deal to prospect for diamonds at Marange.

But in an interview this week, Masimirembwa said Mugabe was given the wrong information by advisors, whom he refused to name.

He also revealed that, after Mugabe made the revelations, he was summoned by the new Mines and Mining Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa, who wanted to be briefed on the matter.

Masimirembwa, however, declined to give more details about that meeting.

“I am innocent. I have respect for my president, but I believe that he was misinformed. I am totally innocent and will give my side of the story to the police,” Masimirembwa said. “Whoever informed the president misinformed him, told lies.”

No contact yet
Masimirembwa said he had not met with Mugabe, nor had the police been in touch with him.

“I have not been in touch with the president. The only person I met is the minister, who called me to his office. I don’t think I am at liberty to disclose what I discussed with him. When the police come to me, I will give my side of the story.”

At a luncheon hosted for MPs after the official opening of the eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe, Mugabe told lawmakers that Masimirembwa and other individuals whom he did not name told a Ghanaian businessman who wanted to invest in the local mining sector to give them about $6-million by bank transfer.

Once the money was transferred, the ZMDC team allegedly asked for further payments in cash and then warned the Ghanaian against coming to the country, saying he would be arrested.

“They asked the Ghanaians to transfer $6-million for the deal and then asked for another amount, which did not come through the formal transaction but as cash, and that amount is still unaccounted for. And this is being done by our people! Such naked corruption cannot go unpunished,” a visibly angry Mugabe said. “This is not acceptable in our country and if this is what we are, then damn us; let the law damn us.”

The Zimbabwe Independent last week reported that the structure of the diamond partnership was as follows: ZMDC had 50%; the Zimbabwe Republic Police Trust had a 20% shareholding; William Ato Essien, the Ghanaian tycoon at the centre of bribery allegations, had 24%; and Dantor, a company representing the interests of local shareholders Itai Munyeza and Blessmore Chanakira, had 6%.

"Evidence submitted"
Essien last week said that he had given Mugabe all the documentation and evidence showing that $5.9-million was taken by Masimirembwa.

“I have submitted all relevant documents to the head of state and, at an appropriate time, I will be able to give you a comment,” Essien said.

“The initial arrangement was we were to invest $23-million into the country; we have documentation and bank statements to show that. Like I indicated, the $5 915 000 we paid went into the pockets of the former chairman of the ZMDC,” he said.

When Masimirembwa was asked about Essien’s claims that he had given him the money, he said: “Let the police do their work without being influenced by what I say.”

In his speech to MPs, Mugabe said the Ghanaian investors had approached the South African central bank to ensure that former South African president Thabo Mbeki would deliver the information to the Zimbabwean leader.

In December last year, Mugabe told his party’s annual conference that Mbeki had told him that Zanu-PF ministers, whom he did not name, had demanded bribes from South Africans who wanted to invest in Zimbabwe.

No action was taken and the alleged ministers were not named, nor was any investigation made public.

Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba could not be reached for comment.

Decades of corruption and cover-ups
In 1989, weighed down by the guilt of corruption and lying under oath about it, Maurice Nyagumbo killed himself. He should have spared himself the trouble.

All those involved in the so-called Willowgate scandal — and for whom Nyagumbo lied during an official inquest — were pardoned.

Many of them now occupy top offices, and still enjoy the privileges of being in President Robert Mugabe’s service.

Mugabe has railed against corruption before, but has never taken any real action. Occasionally, he makes sure that his lieutenants know that he knows what they are up to.

But this appears less about scaring their fingers out of the cookie jar than it is about keeping them in line and doing his bidding.

A recent report by the African Development Bank and United States think-tank Global Financial Integrity said Zimbabwe may have lost up to $12-billion in the past 30 years in illegal financial outflows.

Most corrupt places
According to Transparency International, Zimbabwe is one of Africa’s most corrupt places.

The group also says that 77% of Zimbabweans believe corruption has risen over the past two years.

It runs deeper than the government — about 62% of citizens admit to having paid a bribe in the past year.

There have been major scandals over the years, but none have ended in any major arrests.

• 1988 — Government officials are implicated in the illegal sale of vehicles bought at wholesale prices from Willowvale, the partly state-owned car assembler. A governor and five ministers quit after the Sandura Commission lays bare the scandal, but everyone is pardoned.

• 1995 — A housing fund from contributions made by civil servants to provide shelter to low-income government workers is looted by senior government officials. The probe into the scandal is abruptly stopped.

• 1997 — A fund meant to compensate fighters injured in the liberation war is looted by senior officials. Over an eight-month period, the equivalent of $45-million is spirited out of the War Victims Compensation Fund. Looters claim various states of “disability” to fool the system.

Chenjerai Hunzvi, the war veterans’ leader and doctor charged with assessing injuries, declared first lady Grace Mugabe’s brother 95% disabled, citing “ulcers and a scar on the left knee”.

This was after Hunzvi had declared himself 117% disabled owing to “impaired hearing and sciatic pains of the thigh”. No one is prosecuted.

• 1999 — As Zimbabwe faces serious fuel shortages, senior government officials divert fuel from the state oil company, Noczim, to the black market. Enos Chikowore, then the energy minister, resigns from his post over the fuel shortages.

• 1999 — The state tender board is forced to overturn a tender awarded to a French firm for the construction of a new airport ­terminal, in favour of Air Harbour Technologies (AHT).

The deal is allegedly brokered by Mugabe’s nephew, Leo Mugabe, and reportedly also involves Zidco, Zanu-PF’s commercial arm.

In July 1999, in a letter to Mugabe leaked to a newspaper, AHT’s Hani Yamani complains bitterly about the size of “personal taxes”, referring to kickbacks demanded by some officials.

• 2005 — Ziscosteel, the country’s largest steelmaker, faces collapse after reported looting by senior government officials and politically linked management.

Missing money
Auditors discover money from the sell-off of foreign subsidiaries is missing. The state’s National Economic Conduct Inspectorate reportedly hands Obert Mpofu, then the industry minister, a dossier on the corruption.

Mpofu tells a parliamentary committee that the dossier “contains names of my colleagues in the ministry, MPs and employees at Zisco”.

But Didymus Mutasa, then the security minister, later says the report “does not exist”. Mpofu himself backtracks on his own words.

2005 — Politicians and senior managers at Zupco, the state bus company, are accused of seeking bribes from businessman Jayesh Shah in exchange for contracts to supply hundreds of buses.

Zupco boss Charles Nherera is convicted, but Magistrate Lillian Kudya suspects Ignatius Chombo, the minister in charge of Zupco, “kind of admitted” to getting a cheque from Shah and urges police to “dig deeper”. No such digging takes place. — Jason Moyo

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Kudzai Mashininga
Kudzai Mashininga

Mashininga is an experienced Zimbabwean journalist.

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