IT is mind-blowing. Incredible.
A four-part investigation by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) has revealed a series of gold smuggling syndicates in Southern Africa, with Zimbabwe as the hub that help criminals launder hundreds of millions of dollars, for personal enrichment while plundering their nations.
In the process, Zimbabwe loses US$1.5 billion annually. That is huge money by local standards and can help immensely boost public finances if it goes into Treasury.
With that sort of money, government can fix social services delivery, hospitals, schools, housing, water systems, electricity and many other pressing problems.
There would be no need to mortgage the country through over-borrowing and paying punitive interest rates due to high sovereign credit risk or political risk.
Zimbabwe is mainly sinking due to leadership, governance and policy failures, as well as corruption and incompetence.
The country is rich in natural resources — it has coal, manganese, nickel, iron ore, black granite, chrome, platinum, diamonds, lithium and gold, among many other minerals — but in reality it is poor. Its living conditions are horrible.
Yet some countries such as Singapore with no natural resources have proved to the world that ideas, institutions and leadership can build a country from nothing.
Aside from becoming prosperous, Singapore, a project build by Lee Kuan Yew, is now an advanced country raking in US$420 billion from the exportation of machinery and equipment, food and beverages, electronics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and refined oil. It has to import everything needed, including water from their neighbouring country — Malaysia.
Zimbabwe needs futuristic and effective leadership to move forward.
“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes,” Lee said.
Zimbabwe has all the raw materials to develop, but the country is being looted.
The Gold Mafia investigation shows why the gold — one of the country’s most abundant resources — is so valuable as a way to turn dirty cash into sparkling clean, seemingly legitimate money for those with large amounts of unaccounted wealth. They do so by using a complex web of companies, counterfeit identities and fake documents.
The investigation also exposes the involvement of high-ranking officials from Zimbabwe in smuggling and money laundering, which help the country get around the crippling grip of Western sanctions.
And it identifies the global nature of these crimes, in which gold smuggled from one nation could end up in the form of cash deposited in offshore accounts of front companies halfway across the world.
Undercover reporters infiltrated some of the biggest gold smuggling and money-laundering gangs, centred on Zimbabwe. The investigation showcases how it is next to impossible to determine the true origins of gold bought by regular customers, whether in New York and London or New Delhi and Karachi.
That quality is precisely what makes the metal a priceless asset for criminals.
The film shows President Emmerson Mnangagwa is deeply involved, directly and indirectly. He emerges as the Godfather of the criminal gold networks in the film Gold Mafia.
Given all this, it would be difficult for him to investigate the issue in good faith individuals and syndicates.
Although government has taken some symbolic steps under pressure to freeze assets and bank accounts of some individuals, it is doubtful that authorities will seriously act to deal with the problem.
Yet Mnangagwa has no choice, but to act. He has to act and act now to stop the rot if he wants to survive in power.