GOVERNMENT is cracking down on a leading multi-franchised automotive dealership, Croco Motors, over its real or perceived links to former vice-president Joice Mujuru and her late husband, retired army commander General Solomon Mujuru, by cancelling contracts, refusing to settle its dues and unleashing tax authorities on it in a bid to run it down for political reasons as Zanu PF factional fights escalate.
Faith Zaba/Elias Mambo
This, top government and Zanu PF insiders say, is part of a clampdown on companies that are linked to Mujuru’s family and her political faction that is now at war with President Robert Mugabe since the ruling party’s controversial congress last December.
The battle has now spilled into the courts as liberation struggle veterans, including Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo, fight back in the aftermath of unprecedented internal purges.
Croco Motors is an accredited dealer for Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, Ford, Kia, Volvo, Renault and UD trucks, and has been supplying cars to government ministries, parastatals, police and the military in lucrative deals.
In the wake of the onslaught on the company, Croco Motors, whose directors and senior management include Moses Chingwena (chairman), Farai Matsika (chief executive officer) and Takafara Bere (group finance director), is desperate to meet with Mugabe to resolve the issue which could badly affect its business vulnerable to political risk.
Government insiders say the Croco team has already met with the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, in a frantic bid to resolve the problem before it hits the company’s business. Sibanda was unavailable for comment.
“What is happening is Zanu PF, using government apparatus, is now targeting legitimate businesses which are perceived to be linked to Mai Mujuru. They are cracking down on any company suspected to be linked to her and this has created fear and panic within the corporate sector,” a senior government official said this week.
“Croco is one of those targeted and might as well become casualty. Government departments are now being told not to buy vehicles from Croco Motors. The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) was told recently to cancel an order with Croco besides being unleashed on it to pursue vindictive tax matters.”
Croco Motors has benefitted from multi-million dollar government contracts. It supplied the all-terrain Ford Ranger vehicles worth US$35 000 each for parliamentarians bought through an US$11 million vehicle purchase scheme financed by the government.
Contacted for comment, Chingwena yesterday said: “I am hearing about this for the first time from you. We have no links with the Mujuru faction. I will call you back.”
However, a senior government official said Zimra was ordered to buy vehicles from Mazda Motor Industries and Quest Motors, not Croco Motors as it wanted.
“Zimra was told to buy locally supposedly in line with ZimAsset (government’s economic blueprint). They were told to buy either from Willowvale or Quest Motors, not from Croco” the official said.
“This we are told is in sync with cabinet circular number 16 of 2011, which states that unless otherwise cleared by cabinet, operational vehicles should come from local assemblers.”
But an official in the Ministry of Transport said government is hiding behind the circular to cripple Croco Motors.
“Why is that circular being dusted off now, four years later just to be applied to Croco Motors? While it is good to promote local industries, targeting Croco Motors is politically-motivated. Not only is it now government policy to buy from local car assemblers to punish the company, but Zimra has also descended on Croco on tax issues going many years back. Croco is now being told that it owes the state tens of millions of dollars,” the official said.
“Yet, government owes Croco millions of dollars but it is now ducking and diving on payment. Croco is just being punished for its perceived links to Mujuru. It’s unfortunate and sad that Zanu PF politics is now spilling into the business sector.”
Mujuru and her allies were booted out of government and the party on various allegations which include an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe and corruption in the run-up to, during and after the Zanu PF congress.
The former vice-president, who lost her position to Emmerson Mnangagwa, was fired together with 16 other ministers and deputies in the last three months.
The latest victims of the purges are Mutasa and Hurungwe West legislator Temba Mliswa expelled from the party three weeks ago, and former Minister of Provincial Affairs for Masvingo Kudakwashe Bhasikiti who recently lost his position to Shuvai Mahofa.
The purges have now spread to include corporates that seem or are deemed to be connected to the Mujuru family which Mugabe, his wife Grace and her allies have accused of corruption and extortion.
The Mujuru family has been accused of demanding 10% shares in many companies, illegal diamond dealings, soliciting bribes from potential investors and abuse of office.
During her meet-the-people rallies last year, Grace, whom Mutasa says has unleashed mayhem in the party, among other claims, accused Mujuru of allegedly duping the ruler of Ras al Khaimah, Sheik Saud Al Qasim of millions of dollars in a botched diamond deal.
Officials say government owes millions of dollars to Croco’s different franchises, including Premier Auto Services that runs the Jaguar and Land Rover dealership in Zimbabwe which supplied top of the range vehicles for ministers and their deputies over the years.
They say Croco has also clashed with government before over a debt owed by Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA). It sued the ZNA in June last year over a debt amounting to US$23 376, including interest, after servicing its vehicles between November 2011 and March 2012.
Croco Motors’ services include wheel and tyre services, rhinolining, 24-hr wrecker service, sound and security, and bulk fuel and lubricants. It has networks in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Kadoma and Chiredzi.