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Cyanide scandal culprits on the run amid pressure



THREE culprits in the cyanide scandal, which sheds light on chemical abuse and weak law enforcement in Zimbabwe, are now on the run as pressure mounts for the police and Environmental Management Agency (Ema) to take decisive action against them.


The three suspects on the run are: Li Song, a dodgy Chinese businesswoman; Maria Magdalena Marida Van der Spuy (pictured), a South African who worked for Duration Gold and was a director of Posryn Properties (Pvt) Ltd until last month, and Robert “Rob” Forfar, a self-styled forensic auditor who also worked for Duration. Li, Van der Spuy and Forfar — who are all foreigners — were implicated in the cyanide scandal and are reportedly on the run.

About 40 tonnes and 1.1 tonne pallets of cyanide were discovered secretly and illegally stored at a warehouse in Bulawayo at No. 105 Plumtree Road owned by Posryn Properties.

The illegal cyanide consignment remains there as compromised police, Ema and government officials fail to take serious action against Li and her accomplices behind the brazen criminality.

  This has badly exposed Zimbabwe’s law enforcement agents and regulatory bodies as captured by the Chinese dealer who has penetrated the whole system, and now appears to be above the law.

The police, Ema and government officials are failing to intervene, hence the dangerous chemical remains illegally stored at the warehouse facility which is not even designed for that purpose. This issue was reported to the police and relevant authorities more than a month ago, but they have not taken any serious action against those involved.

Documents seen by The NewsHawks say police, Ema and government officials are protecting Li (52), who bought and stored about 40 tonnes of cyanide illegally at different places in a bid to use it in court to obstruct the course of justice or defeat the ends of justice by producing it as evidence of a product imported using money she unlawfully siphoned offshore to China. 

Part of the cyanide was given to her friend Wayne Jardine, a Bulawayo-based businessman and professional hunter. It is feared that cyanide was used for poaching of wildlife.

 Cyanide — a deadly fast-acting chemical — has been used by criminal syndicates to poison Zimbabwe’s wildlife amid poaching and killing of animals for their money-spinning body parts.

Documents show that Van der Spuy had secretly ordered the illegal storage of the cyanide unbeknownst to her co-directors, in criminal contravention of health and safety laws on behalf of Li.

Documents say it was bought from Curechem Overseas (Pvt) Ltd located on 1 Williams Way, Msasa, Harare and then transported to its Bulawayo branch whose address is 28 Josiah Chinamano Street, after it was shipped to Queens Mine in Bubi district, on the orders of Li, but rejected by Francesco Marconati, her estranged husband, who is also a co-owner and director of the mine holding company.

Curechem is a leading supplier of chemicals with a head office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and offices in sub-Saharan Africa — Zambia, Tanzania, India, Mozambique, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. 

Li Song

A shadowy, creepy and slippery Chinese businesswoman, Li Song evaded arrest this week. As a result, a Harare magistrate subsequently issued a warrant of arrest for her as she is now wanted in connection with theft of trust property and fraudulent cash transfers running into millions of dollars in hard currency. 

 Li is a former director of Eagle Italian Leather company which supplies leather products to Zimbabwe’s state security services sector. 

 This gave her deep close links with political, diplomatic and security networks which she is leveraging to do her business and criminal activities with impunity.

 It now turns out that Li is also involved in wild[1]life trade and deals, particularly concerning elephants, earning herself the moniker Ivory Queen.

 This comes amid growing allegations that police and Ema officials have been compromised by Li, a spooky businesswoman currently facing charges of fraud, perjury and salting away foreign currency from Zimbabwe to her offshore Chinese accounts.

After her cyanide scandal in Bulawayo recently, which The NewsHawks has been reporting diligently of late, and her murky wildlife deals, some involving baby elephants, the key question is: who is Li?

An investigation by The NewsHawks shows Li is a dodgy Chinese businesswoman who came to Zimbabwe over 10 years ago and settled herself into business in various sectors, including leather processing, mining and wildlife trade.

 Over the years, she has made money, used it to establish and fund an elaborate network of political and business connections, making her untouchable. As she accumulated cash, she salted away some of it to her offshore accounts.

 Although she has been described by sources in Beijing as a “small Chinese koi in a Zimbabwean political and business  pond”, her wildlife stock[1]in-trade and underworld business networks have made her an influential player, particularly because she has local political, business and security brokers “in her pocket”.

Li is also a DGL Investments director,  a company she is accused of swindling US$2 million. She is said to have fraudulently transferred large sums of money to offshore accounts in violation of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) exchange control regulations. 

Li appeared at the Harare magistrates’ court this week in a case in which she is a complainant against her former husband Marconati, an Italian businessman. However, she reportedly escaped arrest as CID Commercial Crimes Division detectives pursued her. 

 Last month, an accountant at DGL Investments tried to make foreign payments using the company’s Ecobank corporate account, but was told the RBZ had suspended the account. On top of that, DGL Investments had made a foreign payment of US$1 659 851.10 without acquittals.

The account was also allegedly used to make another foreign payment of US$292 596.30, but no acquittal was done.

  A subsidiary company, Strengthened Investments’ Ecobank account also had US$1 129 311.96 unacquitted. It was used to make foreign payments amounting US$147 400. The two accounts had US$3 232 159.30 in foreign payments not acquitted. 

 Li made payments without the knowledge of other directors and shareholders. She is also a director of a Mauritius-registered company Jacaranda Investments used for payments running into millions.

Van der Spuy Maria Magdalena Marida

Van der Spuy is a South African who worked for Duration Gold and Posryn Properties (Pvt) Ltd until last month.

She held the position of services manager at Duration, which runs Gaika Mine, Athens Mine, Vubachikwe in Gwanda and Royal Family in Fila[1]busi. Formed in 2006 and based in Bulawayo, Dura[1]tion is a subsidiary of Clarity Enterprises Limited.

 Vubachikwe Mine, currently closed, is the flag[1]ship. It lies about eight kilometres north-west of Gwanda, Matabeleland South province. Van der Spuy, a former Posryn Properties director, stored the cyanide illegally and in criminal contravention of health and safety laws on behalf of Jardine and Li.

The cyanide was stored at 105 Plumtree Road owned by Posryn Properties.  Transporting cyanide without a permit is illegal. Storing of the substance is also illegal. This makes Li Song and Van der Spuy answerable in this case.

Robert “Rob” Forfar

A self-styled forensic auditor, whom some claim is actually a conman with no official forensic designations, Forfar is a South African and worked for Duration Gold.

 He was brought in by his long-time friend Maria Magdalena Marida Van der Spuy. The two have a “close relationship”, a source said.

A former colleague of Forfar described him thus: “Forfar is a self-styled forensic auditor. He often presents himself as a qualified chartered accountant, but failed to gain the designation in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

 “Using some networks and dodgy tactics, he managed to worm his way  into a senior position at Duration Gold using his long-time (18-year) ‘personal’ relationship with Van der Spuy the then senior officer of Duration Gold in Zimbabwe.

“As a result, Forfar was commissioned by Dura[1]tion in 2022-2023 to complete a series of forensic investigations of criminal and corrupt activities of the former owners and senior managers of Duration’s Vubachikwe mine.

 “Forfar abused this trust alongside Van der Spuy and the two conspired to financially destabilise Vubachikwe by writing a false so-called ‘forensic’ report defaming Duration management with the aim of forcing a sale of the mine for little to no value for his own benefit, that of Van der Spuy, certain Bulawayo colluding creditors and former  Bulawayo-based owners of Vubachikwe.

“At the same time, Forfar and Van der Spuy were busy looting the Duration Group by covert[1]ly selling assets at a gross undervalue, stealing cash and getting personal benefits under false pretences.

“A number of criminal complaints have been filed against them for fraud, theft, computer crimes, corruption, deceit, as well as the illegal storage of cyanide at the company’s Bulawayo premises for which they were handsomely reward[1]ed by the owners of this toxic chemical. “More charges are anticipated, but the two ‘close friends’ have reportedly fled Zimbabwe af[1]ter being tipped off they are wanted for all these crimes.”

The NewsHawks was not successful in its bid to get comments from the three.

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