THE legal dispute over the botched purchase of a US$1,35 million diamond ring between the First Lady Grace Mugabe and Lebanese businessman Jamal Ahmed, has opened a can of worms amid revelations that the Mugabes are paying up to US$500 000 annually in rentals for an upmarket villa in Emirates Hills, Dubai.
Elias Mambo/Kudzai Kuwaza
The rentals translate to US$42 000 per month, enough to buy two houses in some of Harare’s high-density suburbs monthly.
This is contained in Jamal’s High Court affidavit filed through his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa on Wednesday in response to Grace’s deposition.
In the affidavit, Ahmed claims that the Mugabe family have a bank account in Dubai as they rent a 10-bedroomed villa whose address is J11 Emirates Hill.
Ahmed dragged Grace (second respondent), her son Russell Goreraza (first respondent) and her security aide Kennedy Fero (third respondent) to court after they allegedly occupied his three houses over the diamond ring dispute.
The dispute arose after Grace placed an order for a US$1,35 million diamond ring in Dubai through Thatchfree Investments (Pvt) Ltd, a company owned by Ahmed. The expensive ring was meant to be President Robert Mugabe’s wedding anniversary gift to his wife. Last year was their 20th anniversary.
The order was placed in April 2015 while Grace transferred the funds in May 2016. According to Ahmed, the ring was tendered to Grace in Dubai, but “surprisingly, the second respondent then refused to take delivery of the diamond and instead demanded a full refund in Dubai”.
The Lebanese businessman alleges that Grace unleashed a “reign of terror and harassment where I was verbally threatened, harassed, insulted and told that I could not do anything to them as they are in fact ‘Zimbabwe’”.
In her opposing affidavit, Grace denied that she wanted a wire transfer while in Dubai, arguing she does not hold a foreign bank account.
However, Ahmed said it is not possible for Grace not to hold a bank account in Dubai where she rents a villa which requires that monthly rentals be paid through a bank.
“Whether or not the second respondent has accounts outside Zimbabwe does not mean she did not ask for a refund in Dubai,” he said.
“The second respondent’s family rents a 10-bedroomed villa at the Emirates Hills in Dubai and the address of the villa is J11. I am able to say that this is an exclusive and upmarket area where annual rentals are around US$500 000.
“If the respondent has no accounts outside the country, how does her family pay the rent for this villa which is mainly occupied by her son who lives there? And, of course, there are the living expenses which cannot be low given the affluence of the area.”
Emirates Hill is a luxurious gated community frequented by the rich and famous.
According to property website Luxhabitat, Emirates Hills was “developed as an answer to America’s famous Beverley Hills” although, “Dubai’s Emirates Hills arguably does it better”.
“This ultra exclusive, ultra private neighbourhood boasts huge mansion-like villas, each unique in layout and design. Enveloped in lush, tasteful landscaping, many properties enjoy views over the famous 18-hole Montgomerie Championship Golf Course as well as wide, sparkling lakes. There is no doubt that to buy a luxury property here is to buy a genuine piece of the Dubai dream,” the website says.
In her opposing affidavit, Grace describes Ahmed as a criminal and claims that the occupation of his properties is part of a police investigation of the Lebanese businessman.
Fero, who is also a police superintendent attached to the Police Protection Unit and Superintendent Nyambo Viera, of the Criminal Investigations Department’s law and order section, deposed affidavits to the effect that Ahmed’s properties were occupied by the police as part of an investigation.
However, the Lebanese businessman questioned why Grace’s security had allowed him to do business with her if he was a criminal.
“With all the security around her, why would 2nd respondent have dealt with me if I was of bad character? Is she saying that Zimbabwean security is so bad that it would have allowed the First Family to have tea with family members of a fraudster and to buy a diamond from the very same fraudster?” he asked.
Ahmed further charged that the First Lady had approached the courts “with dirty hands” as she had violated a High Court order issued by Justice Clement Phiri on December 22 ordering the respondents to vacate his premises.
He said Fero, who led the unlawful occupation of the properties and displacement of his workers on behalf of the First Lady, was guilty of contempt of court and has “deliberately raised the middle finger to the court”.
“From the certificates of services filed of record, the provisional order was served at the three addresses on the 22nd of December 2016,” Ahmed said.
“Respondents’ agents ought to have vacated the premises forthwith and in any event, within 24 hours of service. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the respondents have come to court with dirty hands. As a senior policeman, he is aware that there is no law which allows the occupation of private premises without any form of due process,” Ahmed pointed out.
He added: “He is equally aware that there is no law which allows the eviction of people, even squatters, without any form of due process.”
Ahmed argued that he was not in the country unlawfully as alleged by Grace, saying his properties were lawfully acquired, some through mortgage finance which would not have been possible had there been any law barring these acquisitions.
He said he heard from Grace for the first time that his immigration status was under question, querying how government departments would go to the First Lady talking about the status of private people.
The Lebanese businessman said it appeared Grace “is completely ignorant of court procedures, particularly where someone has taken the law into their own hands”.
In the affidavit, Ahmed pointed out that Grace had altered the terms under which she will be refunded the money she paid for the ring.
“The terms and conditions of the agreement indicated that second respondent (Grace) would cause her agents occupying the properties vacating them upon payment of the first installment of US$150 000. At no time did the second respondent query those terms. Instead, the counter proposal at a later stage was that I pay US$650 000 as the first instalment and the balance as the second instalment.”
He also questioned the method through which he was supposed to repay the money which involves CBZ Bank and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).
The Lebanese businessman queried a directive made by Menard Moyo of the CBZ on behalf of Grace. Grace insisted that Ahmed pay the money into an RBZ account held at CBZ. He questioned the role of the central bank in the payment arrangements.
“I note that Mr Moyo has not stated from which account the payment was made from and I will require that he produces documentary proof that this was second respondent’s account,” Ahmed revealed. “I say this because when the issue of reimbursement came up, Mr Moyo directed that I make deposits into an account that RBZ holds with CBZ. I am curious to know why the refund would have been to an RBZ account as RBZ, to my knowledge, does not hold individual accounts.”
He said Moyo started “bombarding” him with refund requests even before the delivery date of the diamond.
Ahmed repeatedly said Grace’s conduct was unbefitting of her status as a holder of a PhD.
“What boggles the mind is that someone who claims to have a PhD can have a faulty thought process,” Ahmed said, referring to Grace’s arguments in her opposing affidavit.