Zanu-PF Mashonaland West provincial chairperson Temba Mliswa has petitioned President Robert Mugabe to intervene in his row with businessperson Billy Rautenbach, and did so long before the tycoon publicly accused him of extortion.
Once former associates, Mliswa and Rautenbach fell out following business deals that soured. Mliswa said Rautenbach hired him as a consultant to connect him to politicians and businesspeople in the country for mining and ethanol business ventures.
Mliswa, who is also the party’s Hurungwe West MP, is demanding $165-million for the role he said he played in securing Rautenbach’s interests in the Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant, Unki Platinum Mines and the Hwange Colliery Company.
Mliswa also said he worked hard for Rautenbach’s farm not to be acquired by the government for its land reform programmes. The farm had been gazetted by the government for compulsory acquisition.
The MP has also accused Basil Nyabadza, the chairperson of parastatal Arda, and a former Zanu-PF Manicaland provincial chairperson, of receiving a house from Rautenbach in exchange for preferential treatment.
Arda is in partnership with Rautenbach’s Green Fuels company, the company that was granted the country’s only licence to produce and sell ethanol.
Nyabadza denied the allegation.
But Mliswa insists that Nyabadza is compromised because of his alleged dealings with Rautenbach.
“If you want I can go and show you the house Billy bought him [Nyabadza],” Mliswa told the Mail & Guardian in an interview.
In addition to the $165-million demand, Mliswa is also suing Rautenbach for $15-million after a newspaper interview in which Rautenbach described him as an “extortionist”.
Mliswa told the M&G that, before Rautenbach’s extortion claims against him, he wrote to Mugabe seeking his intervention.
“In the goodness of time [sic] the truth will come out. There are a lot of witnesses; not only politicians but also technocrats. I wrote to the president and he is aware it is not extortion. I have not received a response yet,” said Mliswa.
He added that he had not heard from Rautenbach or his lawyers since the businessperson declined to pay him and accused him of extortion.
“I have not heard from him or anyone so today [Tuesday] I am going to see my lawyer Jonathan Samkange and will issue summons following my letter of demand,” he said.
When asked how he had valued his political connectedness and arrived at $165-million, Mliswa said he had a verbal agreement with Rautenbach that he was entitled to 10% of the shares of the ethanol project, the Unki mine and Hwange Colliery.
On why he had approached Mugabe when it seemed to be a business venture gone bad, Mliswa said: “I wanted the nation to know that it was dealing with a crook. For example, at Hwange he was supposed to produce coking coke to improve power generation, but he sold it.”
He said that he had dealt with Rautenbach long before he had become an MP or had political ambitions.
Mliswa also said even Presidential Affairs Minister Didymus Mutasa, whom he alleged was aware of the deals, has not denied his version, as Mutasa has told media that the matter was between Rautenbach and Mliswa.
Mutasa refused to comment.
Mliswa said that, to show he was not attempting to extort money from anyone during the inclusive government’s tenure, he had also petitioned a Cabinet committee that was headed by then deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara in a bid to have Rautenbach hand over to him the promised shares in the ethanol venture.
Mutambara’s committee did not specifically deal with Mliswa’s complaint, but in its final report said a build, operate and transfer (BOT) arrangement for the ethanol project was detrimental to the national interest and recommended that it be converted to a joint venture. Rautenbach and the government, through Arda, had initially agreed to a BOT deal.
The falling-out between Mliswa and Rautenbach has brought to the fore previously unsubstantiated rumours that senior Zanu-PF officials sell their political connections to foreign investors.
Rautenbach, who is reportedly close to Zanu-PF officials, was at one time lumped together with numerous Zanu-PF Cabinet ministers who were under European Union sanctions and barred from travelling to Europe.
Rautenbach was not available for comment, but on April 1 accused Mliswa of being an extortionist.
“Mliswa victimised us on many fronts. He approached us in the capacity of an investment consultant, but when we realised that he was not sincere in his approach to business and had extortionist tendencies, we immediately cut ties with him and directed all communication through our lawyers. His submissions pertaining to our various projects are baseless falsehoods,” Rautenbach told the Herald.