WHILE the Belarusian gold mining company Zim Goldfields was given over 55 000 hectares of land by the Zimbabwean government to carry out gold mining activities, it has emerged that the firm has been granted permission to run several businesses, increasing the Eastern European country’s foothold in Zimbabwe.
In 2018, Zim Goldfields obtained permits to prospect for gold on nearly 55 000 hectares in three locations, and was given a five-year “special grant” to mine along the Mutare River.
Zim Goldfields was given the permit after Belarus’ autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko dispatched his right-hand man Viktor Sheiman to Zimbabwe to negotiate trade and business deals on the government’s behalf in March 2018.
Sheiman has been one of Lukashenko’s closest allies ever since the 1994 electoral campaign that brought the strongman to power. While serving as Belarus’ prosecutor general in 2004, he was sanctioned by the EU over the disappearance of several prominent Lukashenko critics, and the US followed suit two years later.
An investigation by Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project at the time established 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 called Midlands Goldfields Limited.
Its ownership was masked by a proxy — U.K. records name Robert Michael Friedberg as the director of the company — but leaked documents from the Pandora Papers show that Friedberg was acting on behalf of its owners as a nominee for a Seychelles entity with a similar name: Midlands Goldfields Foundation.
And that entity was owned by Sergei Sheiman and Alexander Zingman, who were both part of the March 2018 mission to Harare.
Both shell companies appear to have been created specifically to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by Viktor Sheiman’s official visit to Zimbabwe: Midlands Goldfields in both the Seychelles and UK were incorporated just a few months before his trip, and Zim Goldfields was set up shortly after.
Zim Goldfield’s company registration documents shown that the company has also been given power to mine more minerals, contrary to the popular belief that the company was only approved to mine gold. According to the company’s 2018 Memorandum of Association issued by the registrar of companies in 2018, and posted on social media by advocacy group Team Pachedu, Zim Goldfields was given the mandate to prospect several minerals, other than gold and was given the mandate to establish several businesses ranging from formal to informal.
“The objects for which the company is established are; to carry on the business as prospectors and miners seeking gold and other precious minerals and metals, semi-precious stones mineral oils and gases, coal base metals and any other deposits of minerals or materials having any commercial value,” reads the memorandum.
Zim Goldfields has also been mandated to exploit any quarry, mine or other work designed to win any such minerals or materials from the ground and extracting, refining, processing and marketing such minerals and materials including the products, while being granted exclusive rights to start businesses in steel manufacturing, among others.
The memorandum says that the company is allowed to trade or do business of steel manufacturers, buyers, sellers, importers and exporters, producers of steel and all alloys and by products thereof, boiler makers and metallurgists. The company was also given rights to carry out more businesses, many that have been set aside for locals.
“To carry the trade or business as hairdressers, haircutters, and barbers, hairstylists, hair designers, instructors, consultants and specialists in hairdressing, hair and beauty treatment and culture of all kinds,” reads the memorandum.
Zim Goldfields has also been permitted to establish its own security companies at all its branches, to set-up, equip and maintain a training school for guards and guard dogs, to provide cash in transit services, security services at functions and for buildings.
The company has been allowed to “enter into arrangements with any government or authority, supreme, municipal local or otherwise, and obtain from any such, concessions or privileges that may seem conducive from the company’s objectives or any of them”, which is likely to limit the power of local authorities.