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NMB bosses break silence

Vincent Kahiya

NMB Bank directors who have been on the police wanted list since last Friday, broke their silence this week by denying any wrongdoing. They however said they could not avail themselves for

questioning without guarantees that they would not be detained.

Police are hunting for NMB managing director Dr Julius Makoni and his deputy James Mushore, together with two other directors Otto Chekeche and Francis Zimuto. The four are alleged to have externalised $30 billion through a UK-registered company, LTB Money Transfers.

Speaking through their lawyers this week, the directors said they feared for their safety.

“We are being tried and found guilty in the media. We have done nothing wrong and are not fugitives from justice,” said the directors in a statement issued through their lawyers. “Without the necessary constitutional assurances, it would be difficult for us to defend ourselves publicly and fairly through the legal system,” they said.

The directors, all believed to be now in the UK, said they would “make their next move” after getting security guarantees.

“After the requisite assurance has been made by the police publicly, we would be in a position to consider our next move,” they said

Police spokesman Ass Commiss-ioner Wayne Bvudzijena yesterday said the police wanted to arrest the directors.

“We do not deal with lawyers,” said Bvudzijena. “We deal with the individual, we go for the individual. I can confirm that we want to arrest them (NMB directors) so that we can interview them regarding their case,” he said.

The NMB board in a statement this week said LTB was not a subsidiary of the bank as has been reported in the media.

“Contrary to what has been reported in the press, neither LTB Money Transfers nor LTB Finance House are subsidiaries of the bank and the bank is not a shareholder in either company,” the statement said.

The board meanwhile has announced the appointment of Dr David Hatendi as acting managing director and Mario Dos Remedios as acting finance director in the interim.

The Zimbabwe Independent esta-blished that the directors have written to Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono to complain about the handling of their case. Insiders at the RBZ said an executive of LTB, a Mr Friedlander, together with Mushore, met Gono in Harare last Wednesday to explain the nature of his business and the relationship between LTB and NMB. But investi-gations had already started.

RBZ sources said the decision by the police to arrest NMB directors on charges of externalising foreign currency was taken despite the fact that an initial probe had cleared the bank of any offence.

Banking sources said the full NMB saga was not being told.

The directors said in December last year NMB submitted to the central bank’s Exchange Control an application for permission to conduct money transfer business in respect of non-resident Zimba-bweans through LTB. LTB collected foreign currency from Zimbabweans abroad with a view to effecting Zimbabwe dollar payments to named beneficiaries in Zimbabwe.

LTB disposed of its foreign currency through authorised dealers. NMB was then provided with Zimbabwe dollar equivalent which was disbursed to Zimbabwean beneficiaries on LTB’s instructions. NMB generated an income from the administration of the Zimbabwe dollar payments. It is believed the arrangement brought into the country at least £3 million.

There was further panic in the banking sector this week after it emerged that the majority of financial institutions in Zimbabwe operate money transfer businesses through foreign-registered insti-tutions. At least four banks in Zimbabwe have had direct dealings with LTB.

The Independent this week heard that an investigation carried out by Chief Supt Nicholas Mhene of the Fraud Squad initially concluded that there was no externalisation of forex but that NMB might have helped LTB, a British-registered company, to trade in foreign currency. The team, sources said, has since been joined by Chief Supt Musariri Mabunda amid allegations that the new man has replaced Mhene as head of the investigation.

Mhene yesterday said “nothing has changed” and that he was still in charge of the case.

Mhene’s team, together with the Reserve Bank’s investigators, Mukurazhizha and Mathe, initially raided NMB Bank on Monday last week and took away a number of files.

Police returned to the bank later in the day and took away with them Oliver Mutsekwa, a back office manager, on the pretext that they wanted to interview him in connection with a fraud case which occurred in Masvingo. On Wednesday last week the bank’s assistant general manager (international banking) Cecilia Muronda and general manager (treasury) Learnmore Chatima were also taken to Central Police Station for questioning.

Last Thursday police armed with AK47 assault rifles visited the homes of the directors trying to effect an arrest but failed to locate them.

The following day, police sealed the offices of NMB Bank demanding to see the directors who were not present. In the evening police announced on television they were looking for the directors.

Makoni, bank sources said, was already in the United Kingdom on holiday while Mushore is believed to have slipped out of the country via Kariba into Zambia, then to South Africa before he joined Makoni.

Police have since impounded Mushore’s Mercedes Benz M Class SUV in Kariba. His two other Mercedes Benz saloons which were being serviced at Zimoco were also impounded on Tuesday.

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