Peter Hain, a British lord and prominent anti-corruption campaigner, has been appointed special advisor to the Moti Group of companies.
Hain recently made headlines in South Africa with his vocal criticism of the corrupt relationship between former president Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family. But his new boss, Moti Group chairman Zunaid Moti, does not exactly enjoy a spotless reputation.
Moti, along with several associates, is currently the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol, in connection with fraud charges in Lebanon.
According to a press release, the Moti Group has entered into an “alliance” with Hain who has been tasked to help the group expand further into Africa and Europe. Hain will pay special attention to Zimbabwe, and has been appointed as an ex-officio member of the board of the Zimbabwe-based African Chrome Fields, a Moti Group subsidiary.
“It’s an opportunity to help advise in whatever way I can, whether it’s in Zimbabwe or more globally, to assist a South African company to go global,” said Lord Hain, in an interview with the Mail & Guardian conducted at Zunaid Moti’s luxury home in Cape Town, named Beit-al-Moti (Moti House).
Ashruf Kaka, a senior official in African Chrome Fields, is wanted by Interpol on the same charges as Moti.
The Moti Group’s operations in Zimbabwe have drawn intense media scrutiny. African Chrome Fields, on whose board Hain now sits, entered into a joint venture in 2016 with the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) in a chrome smelting project.
The ZDF has been repeatedly implicated in corruption and serious human rights violations.
“From my point of view, we’re looking to the future. Zimbabwe, including its military, has set a new path and people will judge that path on its merits. But it is an opportunity for companies like Moti to take that forward in the right way. Respect for human rights, respect for economic investment and stability, growth and all of those values matter to Zunaid and certainly matter to me. And we want to work with the new president to make sure that path is trodden in a value based way,” said Hain.
Zunaid Moti himself is said to be especially close to former ZDF boss and current Deputy President Constantine Chiwenga, according to several sources. He also enjoys good relations with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a fact Moti himself confirmed to the M&G.
“We went into Zimbabwe [about three years ago] when Mr. Mnangagwa was still in charge of a province. And we went in there looking for investment in the darkest hour. And that’s when we met Emmerson, His Excellency, and he really had a very very inviting approach to us,” he said.
Moti added: “There was not a lot of red tape involved with investing in Zimbabwe at that stage because nobody really wanted to invest…We started to understand Zimbabwe as a Mnangagwa investment, because he was there guiding us in the investment and policies.”
Jonathan Moyo, a close associate of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, last year accused Mnangagwa of facilitating African Chrome Fields’ investment in a chrome smelting operation in Zimbabwe; and illegally granting the company a licence to import fuel without paying duty.
Moti denies that his relationship with Mnangagwa unduly benefited his business in Zimbabwe. “I don’t think the relationship with Mr. Mnangagwa particularly did anything extraordinary. Simply because we worked within the framework of what was required within the rules. The rules have been relaxed now.”
In South Africa, Moti has been embroiled in scandal on more than one occasion, including:
- In 2008, his company, FinFuture, was denied a licence to provide financial services because it failed to meet the “fit and proper” requirements.
- In 2009, Moti’s Abalengi group paid R1.5-billion to Investec to settle a bad debt. Investec was accused of fraudulently liquidating another firm to protect Abalengi’s investments.
- In 2010, the City of Johannesburg filed a civil suit for the restitution of 33 properties it claimed were fraudulently sold and then resold to two companies in which Moti was a director.
- In 2011, Moti and several associates were charged in relation to a violent attack on businessman Naeem Cassim. The charges were later dropped.
Despite all the negative headlines involving Moti, forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan –who once called Moti a “gangster” and a “thug” – gave the Moti Group a clean bill of health. Last year, Moti hired O’Sullivan to assist him in the matter related to his international arrest warrant.
“Peter Hain is a personal friend. He asked my advice on this, and I said he could go ahead with the deal with Moti with my blessing. I did my own extensive due diligence. The problem with Moti is that he doesn’t manage media very well. He’s his own worst enemy,” said Investigator Paul O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan, who appeared beside Moti and Hain at the press conference on Friday, claims that the Interpol arrest warrants issued against Moti and associates have been withdrawn. The Mail & Guardian is working to independently verify this information.
Correction: This article originally stated that Moti and associates were charged in connection with the murder of Naeem Cassim. In fact, they were charged with conspiracy to commit murder (and the charges were later dropped). The article has been amended to reflect this.