HomeBusiness DigestBuilding on despite Kuruneri case

Building on despite Kuruneri case

Godfrey Marawanyika

VENTURE Projects & Associates is set to continue building the house which has resulted in former Finance minister Christopher Kuruneri being hauled before the courts on charges of ext

ernalising foreign currency.

The house, which is located in the upmarket suburb of Llandudno in Cape Town, had an initial budget of R7,8 million the court was told.

Under cross-examination from defence lawyer, Jonathan Samkange, state witness Brian John Gelling of Venture Projects & Associates, said they would continue to build the house unless evidence to the contrary emerges.

Gelling told Samkange that when news filtered through that the Zimbabwean former minister owned the house they were building, his partner took it upon himself to investigate the matter.

“When the news broke out as a result of a defamatory article which appeared in the Sunday Times, Christopher Haeyman (a partner in Venture Projects) carried out his investigations on the Internet and he was satisfied that there was nothing wrong with what we were doing. We therefore did not terminate the contract,” he said.

“As a result he (Haeyman) has continued to honour his mandate until evidence to the contrary emerges.”

Further asked by Samkange if they would continue honouring their obligation in constructing the house he simply replied “Yes”.

Kuruneri was last week convicted by the courts for possessing a Canadian passport but is denying all the six charges of externalising foreign currency and making payments outside the country without permission of exchange control authorities.

Gelling also told that the court that under South African Reserve Bank regulations, he was also allowed to hold foreign currency, adding that there are regulations “in terms of how long I can hold the money and how to transfer it”.

He however said that the huge amount of money they were dealing with which Kuruneri kept in a safe “was unusual for our company”.

He said that they have a number of foreign clients who invest “in huge amounts of projects”.

On Tuesday, one of the State witnesses, Ronald Van Niekerk, a captain in the South African police based in Cape Town, was described by Samkange as “overzealous”.

Van Niekerk had told the court that the former minister opened an account with Amalgamated Banks of South Africa in February 2002, which was subsequently followed by a deposit of 5 000 British pounds.

He also told the court that another deposit of R175 000 was made on December 23 and followed up by another deposit of R530 000 on December 24.

On Saturday the court heard that Kuruneri turned up in Cape Town in 2002 with around US$500 000 in a briefcase and used it to buy property and a car.

Kuruneri is on trial for illegally taking foreign currency outside Zimbabwe — a charge he has denied — in a case which has sucked in central bank chief Gideon Gono.

Samkange said the funds were Kuruneri’s savings which were “courriered” to South Africa from overseas to beat an asset freeze on officials by the United States and European Union over alleged human rights abuses.

Haeyman on Saturday told the court that he met Kuruneri with the foreign currency stashed in a briefcase in Cape Town and was assured that the funds were acquired legally, although he was unaware of their origins.

Haeymen then helped him open an account with Standard Bank in Cape Town to enable him to buy two properties and a Mercedes Benz vehicle.

“He had a large sum of foreign currency…I would presume it was more than US$500 000 but I was not present when he arrived in South Africa so I would not know the origin of the funds,” Haeymen said.

However, court papers show the amount as $582 611,99.

The State has so far called at least nine witnesses from South Africa to testify.

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