TAURAI MANGUDHLA/PHILLIMON MHLANGA
Former President Robert Mugabe has found himself on a list of individuals suspected to have externalised billions in recent years and forced to submit a list of properties he acquired outside the country.
This comes as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) and other State agents tasked to deal with the issue of externalisation and graft, is seized with following up on culprits who acquired properties outside Zimbabwe, according to well-placed sources.
The culprits are executives in top companies, business men and senior officials in Government, said a source who requested not to be named. During his 37-year reign, Mugabe is believed to have amassed a huge fortune for himself and his family including properties and investments outside the country.
Although it proved difficult to get access to the list of properties declared by Mugabe, sources say luxury mansions in Dubai, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Sandton and Europe were on the list. The Mugabes are on record admitting to purchasing two mansions in South Africa and Hong Kong.
It remains unclear how the Emmerson Mnangagwa administration will deal with the 94-year old and his family.
Ironically, Mugabe threw his former Finance Minister Christopher Kuruneri under the bus in 2005 on charges of externalising through buying properties in South Africa despite assertions by then central bank governor Gideon Gono that Kuruneri had rescued Zimbabwe at its critical moment.
And now, the same fate awaits Mugabe.
“Externalisation has now taken a concrete form literally, by way of properties that have been bought. This is against the background of what happened to Kuruneri. We criminalised it and the man who was at the helm is Mugabe,” said a close source.
“Our first line was to encourage people to return the funds, if that doesn’t happen then we go after outside properties then prosecution as well,” added the source.
Government had by late 2017 indicated at least $3 billion could have been externalised between 2009 and 2017.
A list of externalisers was published in March showing 284 externalised money through non-repatriation of export proceeds while 1 403 externalised funds through payment of goods not received in Zimbabwe.
Another 157, according to the list, externalised through foreign banks in cash or under spurious transactions.
The culprits were given a grace period to return the funds.
The efforts paid off with latest figures showing in excess $1 billion could have been recovered.
However, prosecution of the externalisers has stalled due to “instability” in the National Prosecution Authority, according to presidential spokesperson George Charamba.
In an interview with Business Times yesterday, Charamba said once a substantive prosecutor general was appointed, the State would proceed to prosecute the looters.
“The instability at the National Prosecution Authority has stalled the programme,” Charamba said.
“The delay was due to the fact that there is no substantive prosecutor general at the moment. But, work is underway to appoint a substantive prosecutor general. Once a substantive prosecutor general has been put in place, we expect the State to go ahead and prosecute the externalisers.”
In July, Mnangagwa appointed Kumbirai Hodzi as acting prosecutor general following the suspension of Ray Goba for failing to prosecute high profile cases forwarded to his office by investigating agencies. Goba was also accused of sneaking out of the country without Cabinet approval. He eventually resigned.
Mnangagwa’s list has, however, triggered debate on what constitutes externalisation in Zimbabwe’s context, considering that the country has formalised the use of foreign currencies, including the United State dollar and the South African rand.
The list, was met with widespread condemnation for leaving out the big fish in government, who were previously reported to have taken millions of the greenback abroad.
Prosecutors, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, the Zimbabwe Republic Police officials and lawyers who recently attended a Law Society of Zimbabwe meeting on investigating economic crimes in Zimbabwe said there was lack of political will to deal with economic crimes in Zimbabwe.
“Economic crime is rife in Zimbabwe but there is no political will to deal with it,” said a lawyer who declined to be named.