ALMOST four years after getting into power, riding on the narrative of removing criminals that had surrounded the then president Robert Mugabe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s circle of associates and family continue to be implicated in dodgy activities around the world.
Two of Mnangagwa’s close allies were this week named in a landmark investigation exposing international secret deals, tax evasions and hidden wealth, adding to the growing list of his associates involved in dodgy dealings.
These are his deputy chief secretary for Administration and Finance Martin Rushwaya, to whom Mnangagwa is related, and his close business ally Billy Rautenbach.
Mnangagwa revealed during the funeral of Rushwaya’s mother, Mary Rushwaya, in January 2019 that they were related. In the past, his spin doctors have tried to distance Mnangagwa from any connection with people who have been accused of being involved in criminal activities using the excuse that Mnangagwa as the President accommodates and takes pictures with everyone and anyone.
But in this case, there is a trail of evidence of connections between the President and the businessman and someone from his office. The two were exposed in what was dubbed the Pandora Papers, an investigation conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — an ensemble of 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries.
They went through more than 11.9 million documents leaked from 14 offshore financial services firms. ICIJ found that 35 heads of state and government and more than 300 politicians have set up offshore structures and trusts in tax havens from the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Seychelles, to Hong Kong and Belize.
There are emails, memos, incorporation records, share certificates, compliance reports and complex diagrammes showing labyrinthine corporate structures. ICIJ reported that Rushwaya created Greatgem Corp in the Seychelles in 2010 with the help of a Moscow law firm.
His company is accused of facilitating the Zimbabwean military’s secret diamond dealings and off-budget financing.
“Rushwaya was one of two shareholders of the shell company. The other was a shell company owned by Moscow resident Olga Bakina. Greatgem’s sole director was Grey Mashava, then a Zimbabwean army colonel. The company had a bank account in Latvia,” the report reads.
“In 2012, the offshore provider Alpha Consulting Ltd which set up Greatgem, reported the company to the Seychelles’ Financial Intelligence Unit. Alpha Consulting noted that media reports identified Rushwaya as the director of a diamond-mining company that allegedly . . . ”
Rautenbach, who was Mnangangwa’s ally even during the days of the Democratic Republic of Congo war, in which they were both mentioned in reports as having looted diamonds from the country, is accused of hiding his wealth in an offshore family trust under the guise of it being payment to his wife for her contribution in building the family wealth.
“In 2013, one of Zimbabwe’s richest men and arguably one of the most controversial business figures in Southern Africa, Muller Conrad ‘Billy’ Rautenbach, donated multimillion-dollar financial investments in his coal and ethanol businesses to his wife. This restructuring was explained by the need to ‘compensate’ her for her role in building the family’s wealth,” the AmaBungane Centre for Investigative Journalism report reads.
“It would kick off a process in which Jenny Lynn Rautenbach, who also uses her maiden name Noon, would take the lead in establishing a complex offshore family trust fund meant to preserve and grow the family’s assets for generations to come.”
“With the assistance of Singapore-based trust specialist Asiaciti and other advisers, by 2015 Noon was the settlor of the family’s Bonsai Business Trust which owned a non-tradeable family investment fund listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX). The main assets of the fund were inter-company loans (at punitive interest rates) repayable by Rautenbach’s businesses in Zimbabwe.”
Mnangagwa’s list of associates linked to dody dealing keeps getting longer, as it also includes business tycoon Kuda Tagwirei, accused smuggler Herietta Rushwaya and several others.
Mnangagwa also seems to have an appetite for opaque deals from shady shelf companies and dodgy businesspersons, including British-registered Coven Energy Limited, which was awarded a US$1.3 billion deal to build Zimbabwe’s second fuel pipeline.
It was then revealed that the company was incorporated on 25 August last year, with assets amounting to £100. Coven Energy’s name has been added to the list of foreign companies awarded massive projects with no traceable track record.
Since Mnangagwa’s ascension in 2017, many of the companies that have signed mega-deals have either been connected to the President, his family or cronies in government. Nothing much has come out of the deals partly because of the questionable track record of the investors involved.
During the start of his tenure, Mnangagwa claimed he had clinched US$11 billion worth of business commitments, the bulk of which were murky deals, spearheaded by dodgy characters.
Some of the deals Mnangagwa clinched in the “New Dispensation” involve controversial business characters, including Zunaid Moti, Lucas Pouroulis and Jacco Immink.
In 2018, Moti reportedly invested US$300 million to set up a chrome extraction and processing plant in Zimbabwe along the mineral-rich Great Dyke. During that time, Moti was arrested in Germany on charges that he defrauded his former business partner Alibek Issaev an estimated US$35 million in a sham mining deal in Lebanon in 2013.
In June that year, Mnangagwa’s crony Pourolis signed a controversial US$4.2 billion deal with the government, paving way for his investment vehicle Karo Resources to grab mineral claims stretching over 23 903 hectares previously held by Zimplats along the Great Dyke.
The US$4.2 billion cost had been plucked out of thin air, raising questions over the value of the investment. The Pourolis family holds a 42% stake in Tharisa Plc, which has only managed to mobilise US$8 million for the implementation of the platinum project.
In 2005, Pourolis made a fortune after acquiring South Africa’s Impala Platinum subsidiary Elandsfontein Platinum Project for US$15 million, before selling it two years later for US$1.1 billion to Xstrata in a speculative deal. Karo Resources is a company registered in Cyprus and Guernsey, a tax haven blacklisted by the European Union.