Belarus spreads Zim footprint
BELARUS has increased its footprint in Zimbabwe after cabinet this week announced that it was concluding a framework to award the Eastern European country a tender to construct a 100-megawatt photovoltaic solar plant in Norton.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (pictured with President Mnangagwa) calls himself “the last dictator of Europe” and leads an authoritarian regime characterised by repression of citizens who have been under his heavy hand for 27 years.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa on Tuesday in a post-cabinet briefing said the 100MW photovoltaic power plant project given to Belarus was granted national project status in October 2019, but will now be undertaken through money drawn from Zesa Holdings.
Belarus is home to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s close ally and alleged arms dealer Alexander Zingman, whom he appointed Zimbabwe’s honorary consul to the country in 2019. Zingman has facilitated many deals between Zimbabwe and Belarus since his appointment, raking in millions of dollars in the process.
“Cabinet considered and approved the Framework Agreement between the Republic of Zimbabwe and the Republic of Belarus on the construction of a 100MW Photovoltaic Power Plant, as presented by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Ziyambi Ziyambi as Chairperson of the Cabinet Committee on Legislation.
“The nation is being informed that Government seeks to conclude a framework with the Republic of Belarus for the construction of a 100MW solar power generation plant in Norton.
“The Belarus Solar Power Plant was granted National Project Status in October 2019, and will be undertaken through Zesa Holdings. Cabinet advises that alternative sources of energy, including and in this instance, solar power, will complement the existing hydro and thermal power production systems, thereby increasing access to electricity in Zimbabwe and accelerating growth of the economy,” said Mutsvangwa.
While it is unclear whether Zingman will directly take on the solar power project, the 54-year-old tycoon, through the Dubai and Minskbased AFRTRADE DMCC, has a wide footprint across 16 countries in Africa — Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
Local Government minister July Moyo was this year accused of circumventing the public tendering system by ordering rural and urban councils to divert devolution funds to pay for fire engines from a Belarusian company owned by Zingman.
The murky arrangement, which Moyo said was a “government-to-government” agreement, could cost the councils over US$32 million. The deal did not go to tender.
The fire engines are being marketed by Zingman’s AFRATRADE DMCC and are manufactured by a Belarusian company, LLC Pozhsnab.
Following a public outcry over the deal, the government has not stated further details on it, but Harare City Counci,l through its mayor Jacob Mafume, made it clear that it was not happy with the deal and wished it was cancelled. Other local authorities, among them Bulawayo and Masvingo, have also indicated that they do not need the fire engines.
In 2018, Viktar Sheiman, the president’s chief-of-staff and part-time overseer of “far arc” projects, visited Zimbabwe twice. Shortly thereafter, he reported that he had signed contracts worth of US$60 million.
In 2019, President Mnangagwa visited Belarus for three days.
In September 2019, Sheiman once again visited Zimbabwe, resulting in the two countries establishing a joint Belarusian-Zimbabwean construction company, a solar power plant, a joint logistics company, a transport hub like a “dry port”, and an agricultural complex with 10 000 hectares of land. The sum of all signed agreements was estimated at US$350 million.
Under the agriculture deal, Zingman’s company has been supplying tractors and other equipment. He has also supplied buses and is also into gold mining.
Zingman is also an ally of Belarusian strongman Lukashenko.
The dodgy businessman, who was detained for 12 days in March last year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was named in the Pandora Papers as one of two Belarusians who used shell companies in the Seychelles and the United Kingdom to mask their involvement and conflict of interest at the heart of the deal.
Zingman, who was arrested together with fellow Belarusian Oleg Vodchits and Italian businessman Paolo Persico, told a news conference in Harare at the time that they were questioned on suspicion of arms trafficking during detention.
According to a previous report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Lukashenko’s front man, Sheiman, was dispatched to Zimbabwe in March 2018 to negotiate trade and business deals for his government.
Indications were that Sheiman paved the way for a gold-mining deal between his son Sergei Sheiman and other Belarusians with offshore accounts, including Zingman.
Investigations by OCCRP further revealed that the mining deal was presented as a collaboration between the two countries, and Sheiman said it was intended to make “profit for Belarus”. But in fact, the new joint venture, Zim Goldfields, reports OCCRS, was secretly co-owned by Sheiman’s son, Sergei, with no stake for the Belarusian state.
Sheiman’s partner in the gold venture was Zingman. OCCRP further reported that Zingman was detained for 12 days this March in the DRC. “A Press released by his Dubai-based company, Aftrade DMCC, specified that the reason for the incident was arms dealing allegations, which Zingman flatly denied. He was released without charge.”
According to OCCRP, documents from the Pandora Papers — a massive leak to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists of nearly 12 million documents from 14 offshore corporate service providers, shared with media partners around the world — show how the two Belarusians used shell companies in the Seychelles and the UK to mask their involvement and the conflict of interest at the heart of the deal.
OCCRP reported that 30% of Zim Goldfields was held by Zimbabwe’s state-owned mining company, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), but the other 70% was controlled by a UK shell company, Midlands Goldfields Limited.