FORMER Foreign Affairs minister Walter Mzembi is facing imminent arrest after fresh charges emerged implicating him in the alleged abuse of more than US$2 million from the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) and diverting funds donated by a diamond mining company for Zimbabwe to co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly in 2013, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
By Hazel Ndebele
Mzembi, arrested last week and currently out on bail, is fighting allegations of abuse of office as a public officer during his days in government.
He was released on US$400 bail by Harare regional magistrate Elisha Singano, who ordered him to surrender his passport, report once every week to the police and not to interfere with state witnesses.
Last week’s charges against Mzembi emanate from his decision to donate 16 television screens bought by government for the promotion of the World Cup in 2010 to churches.
He was tourism minister at the time. It has now emerged that the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is investigating Mzembi on allegations he abused funds donated by Mbada Diamonds.
Mbada in 2013 pledged US$2,5 million towards the hosting of the UNWTO in Victoria Falls after government failed to raise funds.
However, his lawyer, Job Sikhala, yesterday told the Independent that the allegations were false and were being peddled by some individuals at Zacc in order to tarnish his client’s image.
He said his client was being politically persecuted.
Mzembi is also being investigated for abusing part of a US$5 million IBDZ infrastructure facility in 2013.
“Mzembi faces imminent arrest on fresh charges including how he allegedly approached IDBZ bank and claimed that government approved an infrastructure facility of US$5 million as part of the UNWTO preparations,” the source said.
“IDBZ then released US$1,5 million to Mzembi before the ministry of Finance intervened and wrote to IDBZ notifying them that the facility was never approved by government.”
Zacc sources claim that Mzembi allegedly bought several cars with part of the IDBZ money he had received. In the build up to the UNWTO summit, government formed a UNWTO Corporate Resources Mobilisation Trust (CRMT) to bolster shaky preparations for the conference which were hit by serious funding problems as Treasury had failed to release US$6,5 million to host the event.
Mbada then assisted with some funds.
Sources close to the developments told the Independent that investigators have since approached the ZB bank requesting that the bank avails to them transactions done at the time involving a UNWTO bank account.
“A fundraising account was opened for UNWTO at ZB Bank at Sam Levy Village, into which this money (US$2,5 million) was to be paid. Initially, Mbada was to disburse US$250 000 to the account as and when the money was needed until the money was utilised. Trouble started after the second instalment from Mbada when rumours started circulating about the alleged abuse. A meeting was held between Mzembi and Mbada officials over the allegations. At the end, not all of the U$2,5 million was paid out,” the source said.
Another source who worked behind the scenes in securing the US$2,5 million funding from Mbada claims that part of the money was allegedly abused.
“Money would be withdrawn from the ZB account and at times Mzembi was given for use whenever he would travel overseas on UNWTO business,” the source said.
When contacted for comment, Susan Makombe, who was one of the signatories, said the UNWTO funds were cleared by cabinet. She denied abusing the funds. “I do not have a comment but, yes, that was our bank,” Makombe said.
She denied taking funds for Mzembi’s personal use.
Sources say before Mbada began to question how the money was being used, some vehicles, among them, Ford Rangers, a bus and a truck had been purchased. It is alleged that the bus and truck were allegedly used in Mzembi’s constituency during the 2013 election campaign.
“For a while, until Mbada intervened, the bus and truck drivers were paid from this UNWTO account. After the conference, the vehicles disappeared. The vehicles were registered under a UNWTO Trust whose registration was once queried,” the source alleged.
In an interview with the Independent in 2015, Mzembi refuted all allegations, saying only six cars were bought and all can be accounted for. “We bought six cars during the build up to the UNWTO and these were distributed as follows: I took one since I was heavily involved and had no off- road vehicle from government, one vehicle was given to Margaret Sangarwe, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality,” Mzembi said.
“Aaron Mushoriwa and Susan Makombe, who were part of the trust that arranged the hosting of the event, were also given a vehicle each.”
Mzembi said two trucks were repossessed by a company, Tata Motors Ltd, after Mbada failed to complete the payments of the vehicles bought from them.
“This is a list of the cars that we bought and I challenge whoever thinks that I misused the funds to bring evidence because everything was approved by a board of trustees,” Mzembi said.
In a telephone interview this week, Mzembi’s lawyer Sikhala emphasised that the allegations against Mzembi were false and nonsensical.
“The story you are telling of my client today (alleged abuse of UNWTO funds) is a tired story that has been planted in the newsrooms by some Zacc official, a hateful character (name supplied), whose fight against my client has been legendary for a long time. They must bring evidence to the table rather than taking stories to the newspapers. Newspapers are not courts of law . . . they must arrest him and give him an opportunity to answer,” Sikhala said.
“Mzembi was not the founder of the UNWTO trust as that was an independent trust which partnered the Ministry of Tourism for the hosting of the UNWTO. He was not part of the board and neither was he a beneficiary of the trust. Moreover, it is false and malicious to allege that Mbada donated US$2,5 million because I had meetings where I was shown audited accounts and the funds totalled US$780 000. It is nonsensical to link an independent trust with my client and an obsession of political persecution on my client. We will tackle this head-on.”
Efforts to get a comment from Mbada were fruitless.