FORMER First Lady Grace Mugabe was allegedly involved in poaching, as well as diamonds and ivory smuggling through the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport without her husband’s knowledge, a senior Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) security official has revealed.
Cleopas Chidodo, CAAZ security manager at the airport, revealed Grace made a lot of money through smuggling, with the assistance of personnel from the president’s office.
Chidodo was speaking to undercover reporters in the fourth part of Al Jazeera investigative documentary titled Gold Mafia: Have the King With You. He maintained that the smuggling was occurring behind Mugabe’s back.
“There will be guys from the president’s office. They come and they say they want to talk to the supervisor. I’m called then they say ‘my friend, we are from the first family. Don’t worry about the luggage’,” Chidodo explained. Asked how frequent this happened Chidodo said it was a routine.
“So, there is nothing you can do. Oh, very often, very often,” he said adding, “She wanted to take things out and Mugabe did not know. They would go out there and kill elephants and stuff like that, poachers. And then they would prepare the ivory.”
Chidodo said the ivory would be moved to the airport as cargo in big containers. “If the ivory came, and the supervisor is asking some questions the people will say ‘it’s for the first family’ and no one will ask,” Chidodo said.
He said the protocol in Zimbabwe is that the first family, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and his entourage (people travelling or accompanying the first family) are all exempted from search. The Airport Security Program (ASP) clearly states that VVIPs exempted from all searches.
Chidodo also explained how Grace would clandestinely choose the jewels and smuggle them out of the country.
“If he is travelling with his family then the president and his family are not searched. Then they select some nice diamonds to put in the plane. The plane will go there and take diamonds, come to the airport and it goes straight to Dubai,” Chidodo said.
“No papers, so they were making money, Grace, yes Grace Mugabe. It comes (the plane) to the airport and then they say this plane is for the first family. You see, so they made a lot of money.”
During her hey days Grace earned herself the moniker Gucci Grace because of her love for designer wear. She would flaunt expensive jewelry and apparels during state function where she guested alongside President Mugabe.
Zimbabwe is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)from selling its ivory and has so far accumulated huge stocks of ivory.
Recently, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu said the achievement of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) was supposed to be anchored on sustainable wildlife conservation where trade in wildlife resources was to provide the impetus for economic growth.
He said wildlife was known for pulling a number of communities out of extreme poverty in Africa and the ban on trade was an attack on people’s livelihoods as there were more cases of human-wildlife conflicts caused by animal population growth that people could no longer benefit from.