PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe splurged close to US$3,5 million to charter a Comlux Aviation Boeing 767 BBJ aircraft to Singapore and Mexico from May 7 to 26. This comes at a time government is struggling to raise salaries for its bloated civil servants as well as maintain its grounded Air Zimbabwe planes, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
Elias Mambo/Taurai Mangudhla
Investigations revealed that Mugabe chartered the Boeing 767 registration number P4-CLA, flight number CXB767 from May 7 until May 26. He went to Mexico to attend a global platform for disaster risk reduction after returning from Singapore for treatment.
The globetrotting Mugabe spent US$36 million on foreign and domestic travel in the first 10 months of 2016, piling pressure on the cash-strapped government that is failing to buy painkillers for public hospitals.
Aviation sources said it costs US$1 million to hire the Boeing 767 for four days and the bill escalates even when the plane is parked at Harare International Airport.
“It costs US$1 million to hire the plane for four days so Mugabe paid that when he went to Singapore,” the source said, adding: “The plane also attracted close to half a million dollars in charges when it was parked for six days, from May 13 to May 18 while the cabin crew was at a local hotel. Mugabe paid close to US$2 million for the nine days the plane took him to Mexico.”
Contacted for comment, Transport minister Joram Gumbo declined to disclose how much Mugabe spent on the charter but said the cost is similar to rates charged by Air Zimbabwe.
“Air Zimbabwe is used at a cost and the rates are the same. Every last penny is paid for by the President’s Office,” he said.
Gumbo also dispelled claims Mugabe’s security is compromised by the use of leased planes.
“This is not the first time we have leased aircraft and it happens in any country. In fact, airlines also do the same for their commercial services when they bring unmarked aircraft. We lease these planes (for Mugabe) from friendly countries and a lot of due diligence is put into these arrangements including the security aspect,” he said.
This is not the first time that Mugabe has chartered Comlux Aviation’s Boeing 767. In March, he splurged US$1 million when he chartered the same plane to Singapore and Ghana. Government officials say the ultra-luxurious aircraft is being leased because the Air Zimbabwe jet he normally uses is grounded and needs complete service for long-haul flights.
The European Union (EU) has banned the flag carrier, Air Zimbabwe, effectively run by Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore, from flying to Europe, due to its failure to meet the bloc’s stringent safety requirements. This is despite the fact that the troubled airline discontinued commercial flights into Europe in 2011 after one of its planes was impounded in London over failure to repay debts.
The chartered plane arrived in Zimbabwe on May 7 and left for Singapore on May 8. Mugabe spent four days in Singapore.
“Mugabe came back on Friday May 12 and the plane was parked for six days before he left for Mexico on May 19,” a government official said.
Mugabe is expected in the country tonight after spending nine days in South America. Official sources said the plane comes with a full complement cabin crew whose accommodation and other expenses are catered for by the government.
“From May 13 to May 18 the cabin crew was in Zimbabwe and accommodated at one of the five-star hotels with expenses being paid for by Mugabe’s office,” another government official said.
According to the Comlux website the: “Boeing 767 BBJ is a product dedicated to Heads of State, Royal Families and Business leaders. It is a long-range wide-body aircraft, allowing the transport of 63 passengers over 14 hours of flight non-stop.
“Fitted with a Head of State VVIP cabin fully refurbished end of 2013, the aircraft has always been maintained at the highest standards of the industry. The efﬁcient cabin of the 767BBJ allows the Principal and his Executives to travel in extreme comfort and privacy at the front, while a spacious section at the back is fully dedicated to his delegation and entourage.
“In addition Comlux offers a comprehensive set of services to VIP customers who wish to have their own aircraft, managed personally and professionally. This includes aircraft management, sales and acquisitions, cabin design and completion and maintenance and engineering services.”
The plane—serial number 32954 LN: 861 and engines: GE CF6-80C2B6F—cruises at 860km/h and has state-of-the-art facilities which include: “Private bedroom, bathroom, office and dining area for the entourage.”
Seating capacity includes 10VVIP, 20 business and 33 premium economy to give total capacity of 63 passengers.
Since March, Mugabe’s usual Air Zimbabwe plane has been grounded with the troubled national airline failing to conduct the mandatory C-check, an extensive maintenance exercise requiring a large majority of the aircraft’s components to be inspected.