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Murky deals take centre stage in Zim-Belarus ties

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ZIMBABWE’S honorary consul to Belarus, Alexander Zingman, a close associate of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, was the biggest winner in trade agreements signed in February this year by Harare and Minsk.

BRENNA MATENDERE

Zingman, who sparked outrage last year when he got a US$62 million murky deal to supply local authorities countrywide with fire engines, got three lucrative deals to supply equipment and machines to Zimbabwe through his company, Aftrade DMCC.

While the other five agreements were mutual in nature and diplomatic, Zingman’s deals were purely commercial and placed him in line to pocket undisclosed amounts of money that could run into millions of dollars.

In the first contract signed by Zimbabwe’s Lands minister Anxious Masuka and the director of Aftrade DMCC, Olga Shevko, Zingman will supply tractors and grain harvesting equipment from Belarus.

The second deal that will benefit Zingman through his Aftrade DMCC company reads: “Contract between the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe and Aftrade DMCC on cooperation in the supply of equipment manufactured in Belarus for the construction and modernisation of grain storage complexes.”

Under the third deal, there is a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the executive director of Allied Timbers Limited, Remigio Nenzou and Aftrade DMCC for Zingman to supply Belarusian machines and equipment to Zimbabwe’s timber industry.

 Belarus opened its embassy in Zimbabwe last year in July. The other five agreements between the two countries included one by foreign affairs ministers Fredrick Shava and Sergei Aleinik on the establishment of a joint permanent commission and another on the promotion and reciprocal protection of investments.

There was also an MoU between Shava and Belarusian Education minister Andrei Ivanets concerning mutual recognition of educational qualifications between Zimbabwe and Belarus.

Shava and Belarusian Taxation minister Sergei Nalivaiko also signed another deal for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on incomes and on property.

Harare mayor Jacob Mafume signed a twinning agreement with head of the Minsk city executive committee, Vladimir Kukharev.

In the past, Zingman entered into trade deals with Harare in gold mining, as well as supplying the country with buses and agricultural equipment.

Zingman is an ally of Belarusian strongman Lukashenko, besides his cosy relationship with Mnangagwa.

The dodgy businessman, who was detained for 12 days in March last year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was named in the Pandora Papers as one of two Belarusians who used shell companies in the Seychelles and the United Kingdom to mask their involvement and conflict of interest at the heart of the deal.

 An investigation by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in partnerships with The NewsHawks revealed Lukashenko’s front man, Viktor Sheiman, was dispatched to Zimbabwe in March 2018 to negotiate trade and business deals for his government.

 Indications are that Sheiman paved the way for a gold mining deal between his son Sergei Sheiman and other Belarusians like Zingman with offshore accounts.

Investigations by OCCRP revealed that 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, reported OCCRP, 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.

OCCRP further reported that Zingman was detained for 12 days in March last year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A Press release by his Dubai-based company, Aftrade DMCC, specified that the reason for the incident was arms dealing allegations, which Zingman flatly denied.

He was released without charge. According to OCCRP, 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 UK to mask their involvement and the conflict of interest at the heart of the deal.

OCCRP reported 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, 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.

 And that entity was owned by Sergei Sheiman and Zingman, who had both reportedly been part of the March 2018 mission to Harare.

Both shell companies appeared to have been created specifically to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by Viktor Sheiman’s official visit to Zimbabwe.

 Midlands Goldfields entities in both the Seychelles and UK were incorporated just a few months before his trip, and Zim Goldfields was set up shortly after.

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