BELARUSIAN leader Alexander Lukashenko will be jetting into the country soon on a state visit to cement bi-lateral relations with Zimbabwe and seal murky deals with his long-time ally, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Foreign Affairs ministry spokesperson Livit Mugejo confirmed the visit by the Eastern European country’s dictator in an interview with The NewsHawks on Wednesday. Like Mnangagwa, Lukashenko, whom critics describe as “the last dictator in Europe”, leads an authoritarian regime characterised by political repression and violence.
He has been in power for 27 years.
“He (Lukashenko) will be visiting on a state visit and we will be issuing a statement very soon,” said Mugejo.
Early this week, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba, using his alternative micro-blogging site Twitter handle, Jamwanda, announced Lukashenko is coming to Zimbabwe.
Accompanying the tweet was a video showing the arrival of Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Pretoria, South Africa, this week. Lavrov met South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation minister Naledi Pandor for bilateral talks amid demonstrations by Ukrainians living in South Africa. The Ukranians were protesting the Kremlin’s invasion of their country.
“Africa is coming of age; the era of kowtowing to the West is over. Zimbabwe will be hosting Belarus leader before month end!” Charamba tweeted.
Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladmir Putin.
He is also close to Mnangagwa. Lukashenko and his cronies, especially Alexander Zingman, have murky deals in Zimbabwe facilitated by Mnangagwa’s government. Zingman, Zimbabwe’s honorary consul in Minsk, Belarus’ capital, was recently involved in a dodgy US$62 million fire engines for local authorities scandal in Zimbabwe.
In March 2018, Lukashenko dispatched his right-hand man Viktor Sheiman to Zimbabwe to negotiate trade and business deals on behalf of Belarus.
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, Sheiman was sanctioned by the EU over the disappearance of several prominent Lukashenko critics, and the US followed suit two years later. But he was under no such restrictions in Zimbabwe.
After Sheiman returned from Harare, Belarus’ state-owned news agency said he had met with Zimbabwean officials to discuss “expanding economic cooperation” between the two countries, and that he had brokered an opportunity for “the creation of a mining enterprise.”
Sheiman told Belarusian state television that the trip had produced deals to explore for minerals such as gold, platinum, and rare earths through a joint venture in mining.
The mining deal was presented as a collaboration between the two countries, and Sheiman said it was intended to make “profit for Belarus.”
But in fact, the new joint venture, Zim Goldfields, was secretly co-owned by Sheiman’s son, Sergei, with no stake for the Belarusian state. Sergei Sheiman’s partner in the gold venture was Zingman, who is close to Mnangagwa’s family.
Zingman was detained for 12 days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in March last year. A press release by his Dubai-based company, Aftrade DMCC, denied that the reason for the incident was arms dealing.
He was released without charge. Documents from the Pandora Papers — a massive leak to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists of nearly 12 million documents from 14 offshore corporate service providers, shared with media partners around the world — show how the two Belarusians used shell companies in the Seychelles and the United Kingdom to mask their involvement and the conflict of interest at the heart of the gold deal.
Thirty percent of Zim Goldfields was held by Zimbabwe’s state-owned mining company, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and 70% was controlled by a UK shell company called Midlands Goldfields Limited.
Its ownership was masked by a proxy — UK 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.
In January 2019, Mnangagwa visited Belarus where the two leaders discussed business issues, culminating in companies owned by Lukashenko’s close associates getting lucrative deals in agriculture and gold mining.
Last year in December Harare announced that it was concluding a framework to award the Eastern European country a tender to construct a 100-megawatt photovoltaic solar plant in Norton.
The Belarus Solar Power Plant was granted national project status and was given cabinet greenlight to be undertaken through Zesa Holdings.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa at the last post-cabinet briefing for 2022 said Zimbabwe had entered into what she called a Joint Permanent Commission with Belarus that would see the two countries trading in various sectors, including wildlife, for the next five years with a possibility of renewing the partnership.
In January this year Zimbabwe’s cabinet announced it was discussing strengthening trade and cooperation with Belarus. The deal, like the solar power plant construction, was once again negotiated by Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi.
Last year Local Government minister July Moyo was accused of circumventing the public tendering system by ordering rural and urban councils to divert devolution funds to pay for fire engines from a Belarusian company owned by Zingman.
The murky arrangement, which Moyo said was a “government-to-government” agreement, could cost the councils over US$32 million.
The deal did not go to tender. The fire engines were being marketed by Zingman’s AFRATRADE DMCC and manufactured by a Belarusian company, LLC Pozhsnab. Following a public outcry over the deal, the government has not stated further details on it, but Harare City Council, through mayor Jacob Mafume, made it clear that it was unhappy with the deal and wanted it cancelled.
Other local authorities, among them Bulawayo and Masvingo, have also indicated that they do not need the fire engines.
Zimbabwe’s bilateral cooperation with Belarus involves supplies of trucks, buses and mining vehicles and equipment, tractors and food stuff amid prospects of joint projects in agriculture, construction, energy, mining and exploration, and transportation, as well as in education and health.