MULK International, the United Arab Emirates-based company roped in by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to build a US$500 million Zim Cyber City in Harare, secretly bought Nigeria’s National Theatre for US$40 million in 2014 in a corrupt deal, raising anger in the West African country, checks by The NewsHawks have revealed.
The corrupt deal in Nigeria casts doubt over the real intentions and transparency of the Shaji UI Mulk-led conglomerate in its current Harare project where President Mnangagwa officiated during the ground breaking this week.
Mulk Holdings and its joint venture partners own and manage a group of 20 companies with a sector focus on construction and fit-out manufacturing, as well as diversified business interests in trading, commodities, real estate and energy, spread across 48 countries.
According to Mnangagwa, the Zim Cyber City to be built by Mulk International will be a state-of-the-art mixed-use hi-tech park in Mt Hampden, an area on the outskirts of Harare touted as Zimbabwe’s new capital.
Mnangagwa said the Zim Cyber City is a landmark project, offering a world-class high-end lifestyle Zimbabweans.
Mulk’s company has already been given an exclusive licence to establish a blockchain and digital assets special economic zone.
The UAE company promised to build townhouses, villas, hi-tech offices, duty-free mall and 15-storey commercial tower.
The company was also given unfettered incentives like a five-year tax exemption, freehold resale of the real estate and permission to employ foreign staff.
As reported by Nigeria’s prestigious media house, PM News, in 2014 the then minister of Culture and Tourism, Edem Duke, secretly jetted off to the UAE where he traded off the nation’s cultural pride to Mulk Holdings.
The media outlet reported that the secret deal was successfully shielded from the Nigerian media, signed and sealed in December 2014 between a delegation led by Duke, the general manager of the National Theatre, Kabiru Yar’Adua and representatives of Mulk Holdings to the tune of US$40 million (about N7.5 billion at that time).
PM News learnt of the deal through a report by the GulfAfrica Review, which in its 10 December 2014 issue said Mulk Holdings, a diversified UAE-based business conglomerate, had “announced its entry into the retail sector in West Africa through a US$40m joint venture to develop Nigeria’s National Arts Theatre in Lagos into a duty-free shopping centre in partnership with the Suzanne Group.”
Gulf Africa Review is a business news platform covering trade and investment ties between the Gulf Cooperation Council and Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Barely one year after Nigerians stopped him from turning the National Theatre into a hotel, the minister of Culture and Tourism, Edem Duke, secretly jetted off the country to the United Arab Emirates, UAE, where he traded off the nation’s cultural pride to Mulk Holdings, a diversified UAE-based conglomerate with interests in retail sector and other businesses,” reads the report by PM News.
Although the deal was marred by allegations of corruption, Mulk Holdings pledged to turn the interior of the National Theatre into a modern duty-free and retail shopping mall. The project was designed to convert approximately 30 000m2 of the existing space in two 15 000m2 phases.
At that time, Nigeria’s ambassador to the UAE, Bashir Yuguda, was later quoted as saying: “The National Theatre has been the hub of cultural activities in Nigeria since its establishment in 1976, and this development will complement and kick-start a master re-development programme designed for this area.”
More media outlets reported the secret sale of the theatre to Mulk Holdings and expressly revealed that the majority of Nigerians were against the deal.
The National Arts Theatre was originally built for the Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977 in Nigeria and so it was considred a key facility by citizens.
A year after the theatre had been taken over by Mulk International, another Nigerian media outlet, The Ellites, produced a damning story titled:
“EXPOSED: The Cauldron of Corruption and Intrigues Inside National Theatre.”
The story, written by the publication’s Assistant Editor Seun Akioye, said documents obtained showed “systemic corruption and intrigues at the heart of the National Theatre.”
Part of the story reads: “Looking from afar, one sees a picture of a masterpiece and a cultural landmark called the National Theatre. To outsiders, the magnificent structure remains the historical monument it was created to be with employees and management working in concert to achieve the aim of promoting cultural unity and enhancing artistic values.”
“But, with hard documentary evidence and allegations of gross financial misappropriations, the National Theatre looks like an excellent script for one of the plays which are frequently on display at the theatre to insiders.”
The entry of Mulk Holdings into Zimbabwe, a company which Mnangagwa himself brought into the country, comes barely a month after it emerged that another of his ally, Zimbabwe’s honorary consul to Belarus Alexander Zingman, was to benefit from a US$62 million murky deal to supply local authorities countrywide with fire engines.
Zingman had also creamed off Zimbabwe of millions in gold mining, as well as supplying the country with buses and agricultural equipment.
Another controversial figure close to Mnangagwa, Dellish Nguwaya, is entangled in the contentious Pomona waste-to-energy deal that will see Harare paying more than US$300 million for its own garbage for the next 30 years.