Nikuv polls rigging saga takes new twist

THE plot around shadowy Israeli security firm, Nikuv International Projects’ elections rigging saga took a new twist this week with the Registrar-General (RG) Tobaiwa Mudede — who is at the centre of the alleged electoral theft scandal — refusing to explain why his department paid over US$10 million to the company which deals with voters’ rolls and elections results.

Elias Mambo/Herbert Moyo

Investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent have shown Nikuv played a critical role in influencing the outcome of recent general elections in which President-elect Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF secured what is widely seen as a “made-in-Israel” landslide.

Outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is challenging Mugabe’s victory at the Constitutional Court. In his application last week, Tsvangirai attached a series of controversial payments to Nikuv spanning a six-month period from February 4 to July 30 amounting to more than US$10 million which were made by Mudede’s office through its account held at FBC Bank.

In total Mudede’s office paid US$10 578 335 to Nikuv between early February and July month-end. The account is said to be classified as “highly confidential” at the bank and senior employees have signed a “confidentiality clause” around it as it was considered “sensitive”.

Asked by Independent at his offices in Harare yesterday morning to clarify the shady payments, Mudede said: “The Registrar-General’s Department does not handle such matters through the press.”

When the Independent visited his offices, Mudede gathered his staff and asked this newspaper to ask its questions. When he was asked about the dubious payments to Nikuv, he abruptly ended the meeting after 11am saying he would only respond in writing in due course.

And at about 2pm Mudede’s messenger dropped an envelope at the Independent’s offices which contained a one sentence response saying he “does not handle such matters through the press”.

Approached to comment on its role in the unfolding saga, FBC head of group marketing, Priscilla Sadomba said: “Please note that we are bound by client confidentiality privileges which prevent us from divulging any account information to a third party without the express consent of the client.”

Nikuv local representative Ron Asher also refused to comment on the company’s involvement in the disputed elections and the payments received, only saying: “We are not entertaining interviews. We are not going to comment on anything at this moment because we are moving on to the next stage.”

Asher refused to explain his remarks even though Nikuv is central to the story.

MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said if the payments were for a legitimate and transparent task why then the veil of secrecy? He said Mudede and Asher should find it easy to explain themselves unless they have something to hide.

“The payments were clandestinely done via the RG’s Office and when asked over the existence of this company (Nikuv), Zanu PF members of cabinet said they had no knowledge of the shadowy company,” Mwonzora said.

Mwonzora said the fact that Mugabe’s ministers professed ignorance about Nikuv when they actually hired it and that Mudede cannot explain the series of urgent payments before the polls says a lot about the issue and proves “Zanu PF badly needed the services of this company in connection with elections while the firm wanted to be hastily paid before voting day”.

Recent enquiries about Nikuv from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson Rita Makarau drew a blank as she referred all the questions to Mudede who yesterday effectively refused to shed light on the issue.

Last week, Nikuv, whose senior officials were said to have met Mugabe in Harare a day before the elections, hastily shut its Avondale offices after revelations of their involvement in the controversial elections were exposed and shifted to Ballantyne Park in Harare where Eli Antebi, young brother to Emmanuel Antebi, Nikuv CEO, resides.

Over the years Nikuv, which arrived in Zimbabwe in the 1990s, has been paid tens of millions of US dollars in public funds for working with Mudede on a whole range of issues, including the voters’ roll and elections.

Nikuv, which was in 1996 taken to court in Zambia over vote rigging allegations as reported by the Independent recently, says in its official profile it deals with voter registration, creating and printing of the voters’ roll, demarcation of constituencies, voter registration cards, nomination of candidates and election results.

According to court documents, Mudede made the following payments to Nikuv: In February he paid US$1 600 000, a further US$1 580 890 in March and US$1 853 100 in April.

He also paid US$1 756 475 in May, another US$1 405 200 in June and US$2 383 670 in July, bringing the total amount paid a day before elections to the company to US$ 10 578 335.

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