Mphoko releases arrested officials

ACTING President Phelekezela Mphoko has been sucked into the ongoing corruption saga at the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) after he reportedly ordered the release of acting chief executive officer Engineer Moses Juma and non-executive director Davison Norupiri who were arrested on Tuesday by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) on allegations of defrauding the parastatal of US$1,3 million.

Wongai Zhangazha/Elias Mambo/Herbert Moyo

Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko
Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko

In a move which borders on abuse of office, government officials told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday that Mphoko, who is substantively co-Vice-President, on Wednesday evening “arrived in person at Avondale Police Station (in Harare) where he personally secured the immediate release of the incarcerated duo on the grounds that they were his boys”.

Mphoko is acting president as President Robert Mugabe is away in Kigali, Rwanda, for the African Union summit.

The latest controversy comes at a time Mphoko recently hit the headlines over his botched attempts to facilitate a costly US$350 million loan deal at a usurious interest rate between the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority and Botswana’s Capital Management Africa where his son Siqokoqela is a shareholder.

He was, however, stopped in his tracks by Mugabe who rejected the deal in which the lenders stood to make a cool US$70 million.

Zacc had secured the arrest of the two Zinara bosses under docket number RR08/05/16. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) charged them for allegedly defrauding the parastatal of US$1 294 575,76.

Official sources said Norupiri has been heavily involved in the day-to-day running of Zinara operations, although he is a board member.

The sources also said upon hearing of the duo’s arrest, Mphoko drove to Avondale and forced police to release the Zinara bosses under fierce political pressure.

“Mphoko first called Avondale police station instructing them to release the two Zinara officials,” a source said.

“Police officers however initially refused to obey his order, forcing him to drive there. He arrived in his black Mercedes-Benz around 18:30 in the evening and then instructed Assistant Inspector Rongai to release them.”

Another source said Mphoko lashed out at the police, telling them they must not play around with him because “I’m not a vice-president of a co-operative or burial society”, but the country.

The source said police tried to resist Mphoko’s demands and a scuffle subsequently ensued as his aides assaulted a police officer who was defying the order.

“After their release Mphoko drove to the Rainbow Hotel (where he has been staying since 2014) in their company,”
said the source. “Juma and Norupiri spent the night in Mphoko’s hotel presidential suite and they are still there (as of yesterday), while he has been busy negotiating with Zacc officials so that the charges can be dropped.”

Sources said Zacc officials were yesterday summoned to Mphoko’s offices in Harare in a bid to bring pressure to bear on them to drop the charges and let the Zinara officials go scot-free.

The station’s detention book shows that Juma and Norupiri were detained on Wednesday and released on the same day. It also shows the release was authorised by “VP Mphoko”.

Mphoko was not reachable on his mobile phone. He did not respond to text messages, although they were delivered.

Documents seen by the Independent show Juma and Norupiri were arrested at midnight for “criminal abuse of duty as public officers”. They were due to appear in court yesterday, but Mphoko intervened and stalled due process.

The NPA had requested that bail be pegged at US$500 and conditions be that the two would surrender their passports, report once every Monday at Avondale Police Station, reside at given addresses and not interfere with witnesses.

Presiding magistrate Vakai Chikwekwe was reportedly unhappy about the no-show and grilled the prosecution over the matter.

Norupiri’s lawyer, Innocent Chagonda, said he did not know how his client had been released.

“I don’t know what happened. What I know is that they were released and I don’t know whether it was by consent or force,” he said.

Juma’s lawyer Tinevimbo Mutemachani also did not have facts on how his client was released.

According to the Form 242, a request for remand form, allegations against Norupiri are that between September 2014 to July 2015 and in the exercise of his functions and duties as a public officer, he corruptly awarded a contract to a company called Tax Management Systems (TMS).

“He unilaterally and single-handedly picked three tax consultancy companies namely Misfort Tax Consultancy, Excel Tax Consultancy and Central Source Management consultants operating as TMS for them to represent their proposals for purported tax management consultancy and tax healthy checks services to reduce a purported tax obligation/exposure which had accrued to the tune of US$43 000 000 at Zinara before the finance committee which was chaired by the accused person,” one document says.

Norupiri then “unilaterally and single-handedly” ordered Precious Murove, who was the acting finance director, to assign corporate secretary Mathelene Mujokoro to call the three companies for presentations before the finance committee.

This was against Zinara procedures which state that the procurement of service providers should be carried out by the procurement committee and not the finance committee.

Moreover, the amounts involved (US$43 million) required that the procurement of these services be done through tender processes.

“When the accused (Norupiri) deliberately handpicked three companies, he was aware that two of the companies were shelf companies and he wanted them to compete with the Tax Management Services, which was an established company.

The accused did this in order to show favour and give Tax Management Services an unfair competitive advantage over the other two companies,” the document says.

It is further alleged on September 23 2014, Norupiri chaired the finance committee which deliberated on the proposals submitted by the three companies he had handpicked.

Norupiri is accused of influencing the finance committee’s outcome, which recommended the engagement of TMS to the procurement committee.

“The accused was aware that it was only the duty of the procurement committee to make such recommendations for the adoption by the full board. Later that day the accused attended a procurement committee meeting to which he was not a member and influenced the deliberation of the engagement of Tax Management Services before the committee since that item was not on the agenda of that meeting,” documents say.

However, the procurement committee pointed out Norupiri had flouted the procurement procedures, exposing his personal interest in the TMS contract.

Norupiri is also accused of imposing TMS on the Zinara executive as he attended an executive meeting at the parastatal uninvited. This was after he had become aware the Zinara executive had summoned TMS to justify an invoice it had submitted for the payment of a job it claimed to have done on behalf of the state entity.

“In that meeting the accused ordered Zinara executive to pay in full the money that was demanded by TMS without seeking any further clarifications,” the documents say. “The accused abused his office to force Zinara to pay TMS and this exposed his personal interest in the matter.”

On July 15 and 16 2015, Norupiri allegedly exchanged emails with Mujokoro concerning the preparation and finalisation of the contract between Zinara and TMS. This was after Zinara had made some payments to TMS without any binding contract between the two parties.

“This caused actual prejudice to Zinara and government of US$1 274 575,76, which was fraudulently and unlawfully paid to Tax Management Services without any existing and binding contract, without any services having been provided and nothing was recovered,” documents read.

Juma is also accused of unlawfully and intentionally authorising and approving various payments to TMS without any existing contract. It is alleged he created a fictitious contract in which he tried to regularise the engagement of TMS.

“The accused tried to influence and coerce the then acting finance director Precious Murove to sign on the document and then Murove refused to sign after he realised the anomalies associated with the purported contract,” documents say.

Mphoko joins a long list of senior officials who have interfered with Zacc’s operations to protect themselves and their cronies from arrest for corruption.

Zacc is a commission established in terms of Section 255 of the constitution with a mandate to investigate and expose cases of corruption in the public and private sectors in order to “combat corruption, theft, misappropriation, abuse of power and other improper conduct in the public and private sectors”.

However, government and ruling Zanu PF bigwigs have consistently sought to stifle Zacc to protect corrupt officials.
Recently Zacc came under fire from Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba who claimed it was operating like a behaving like a “rattlesnake” as it moved to arrest a number of senior government officials for corruption.
Efforts to get comment from police spokesperson Charity Charamba were unsuccessful.