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EXCLUSIVE: How Zifa executives swindled FA of nearly US$1 million

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FIFA funds could have been embezzled on a large scale after the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) made highly questionable payments of nearly US$1 million to purchase sub-standard equipment from a company owned by a senior member of the association.  

ENOCK MUCHINJO

Documents exclusively obtained by The NewsHawks this week show that Zifa paid some US$833 910 to a company called Rollertag over the past two years for football equipment, distributed nationwide for grassroots development, in a deal that has put the under-fire officials of the federation back under the spotlight on suspicion of theft by swindle as well as serious conflict of interest.

Rollertag is owned by Zifa councillor Marshall Jonga, who is also head of beach soccer in the country. The Zifa council, which he sits on, is the supreme decision-making authority of Zimbabwe’s football governing body.

Curiously, Rollertag – in its company profile – states its core business as corporate wear, corporate gifts, banners, and branding, not sportswear distribution or manufacturing.

Multiple sources told us it is interesting to note that Jonga is close to axed Zifa vice- president Philemon Machana, who authorised all payments to Rollertag.  

Machana, in his role as Zifa’s director in charge of finance, took responsibility of procurement at the Zimbabwean FA and was a key signatory of all payments from 53 Livingstone Avenue, the headquarters of Zifa, up until being jettisoned alongside the entire Felton Kamambo-led board last November.

The documents reveal that Machana and suspended Zifa CEO Joseph Mamutse sanctioned all the payments to Rollertag, which were spread over a period of two years.

Besides by-passing the rest of the Zifa executive committee in the dodgy kit deal, it has been gathered that no formal tender procedure or disclosure to auditors were carried out.

This publication has in its possession confirmation of the payments to Rollertag, since sometime in 2020 to around April 2021.  The two registered directors of Rollertag are Jonga and one Lorraine Goddard.

The biggest payment voucher to Rollertag, for US$291 400, was processed from Zifa’s Ecobank account on 19 August 2020. Another substantial amount was US$259 897, which was deducted from Zifa’s account on 2 April 2021.

Transaction records also reveal further payments of US$130 516, US$51 294, US$48 135, and US$52 668. This totals some US$833 910, but well-placed sources told The NewsHawks that Rollertag could well have pocketed slightly over US$1 million from Zifa, which received grants of US$6 million in grants from Fifa on a four-year cycle until the country’s ban by the world governing body in February.

Meanwhile, sources within have spoken of how the equipment was in fact bought in South Africa by Zifa’s ousted leadership from association coffers and, judging from the low-quality, the gear would not have cost no more than US$90 000.

This has fueled a strong belief that “Rollertag was used to siphon funds from Zifa by those elected and entrusted with safeguarding the interests of the FA and Zimbabwean football,” remarked a top source.

“In one of their quotations to justify that Rollertag was cheap, they actually used a quotation from a company with a Sunningdale address, which we believe is owned by a friend of theirs,” said the source, adding: “So the three-quotation system was abused. And in terms of the chairman of beach soccer benefiting so generously from the federation, I doubt that even any declaration of interest was done. Besides, that kit was so poorly made it wouldn’t have cost that much. In Mutasa, for example, when donations were made, one boy kicked a new ball and it burst, tube and leather flying all over the place in opposing directions. This is one on the biggest scandals ever to hit Zifa.”

A Zifa employee also narrated how payments to Rollertag raised eyebrows within staff at the association’s headquarters.

“How these Rollertag payments were heavily prioritised, at a time when Zifa workers countrywide were owed smaller amounts, tells you a story,” said the staffer. “Also, we were shocked to note that this particular company (Rollertag) was the only one being paid in hard currency. With the other creditors, money was withdrawn from the bank in US dollars, changed on the black market, and paid to the service providers at the official bank rate in Zimbabwean dollars.”

This revelation by The NewsHawks could be just one of several illicit financial conducts that may shed light on how the Zifa board, chaired by Kamambo, was suspended last November by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), after being accused, among other things, of massive corruption.

The SRC is at best a largely non-political body, although appointed by the government, through the ministry of Sports, to regulate all sporting activities in the country.

Zifa’s suspension, because of SRC’s government links, courted an international ban on Zimbabwe from world football ruling body Fifa. The powerful Zurich-based organisation prohibits government-related interference in the affairs of its member associations such as Zifa.

Notwithstanding the ban, Zimbabwe was last week included in the draw for the qualification competition of the next Africa Cup of Nations tournament to be played in the Ivory Coast.

The Warriors will, however, only be allowed to take part in the qualifiers if Kamambo’s executive is reinstated unconditionally, according to Fifa.

But then the SRC has remained unmoved, insisting that reinstatement, or anything related to that, will only happen after the completion of a forensic audit of Zifa’s accounts which, as it has turned out and reported in this story, should include such dealings as this controversial kit purchase.

Meanwhile, the suspended Zifa bosses’ woes mounted when the association’s council, also known as the Assembly, last weekend convened an extra-ordinary general meeting in Harare and resolved to fire Kamambo and his deputy Machana.

With the purged football leaders now kicked out under the statutes of the game in the country, focus has turned to the SRC, to negotiate the country’s way out of international wilderness. Fifa, though, has insisted on the reinstatement of the same fired officials as they key to Zimbabwe’s readmission.

The NewHawks believes that a much more detailed account of events reported in this article might have been included in a dossier handed over to Fifa by the SRC, on alleged corrupt Zifa activities.

Whether or not the bureaucrats in Zurich will be swayed to give Zimbabwe a lifeline, based on this and many more files before them, remains speculation for now.

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