FOR splurging £16 million (US$21 million) on pricey jewellery and vintage wines over a decade, a British woman became the first target of a law seeking to dissuade criminals from enjoying their ill-gotten wealth in the United Kingdom.
By Tinashe Kairiza
Through its Unexplained Wealth Orders introduced earlier this year, the UK hopes to curb London’s status as a haven for illicit financial flows.
Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of a top Azerbaijan banker who is now under investigations after spending over US$21 million over the course of a decade, using 35 credit cards issued by a bank led by her husband, former International Bank of Azerbaijan chairman Jahangir Hajiyev, in shopping sprees at Harrods department store, a top-end store for the ultra-rich, between 2006 and 2016.
She also spent US$33 million on opulent real estate in Britain from funds whose origins are believed to be dirty.
Nearer home, a number of individuals could find themselves in the dock and having a hard time accounting for their fortune after President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently gazetted Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) to tackle illicit financial flows.
The legislation adds to a raft of statutes his administration has crafted to ostensibly arrest corruption that are gathering dust.
The latest regulations, which came into effect this week, give the state power to seize assets suspected to have been purchased from the proceeds of corruption.
Illegal foreign currency dealings will also attract a minimal custodial sentence of 10 years.
The new law, which has generated intense debate around its efficacy, came into force following Mnangagwa’s intervention to amend the exchange control and money laundering regulations through provisions of the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act.
Mnangagwa won the disputed July presidential poll by a wafer-thin 50,6%, pivoting his campaign message on the need to tackle graft which flourished during the 37-year rule of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe who was toppled in a millitary coup in November 2017.
In March, Mnangagwa’s administration published a long list of companies and individuals accused of externalising a staggering US$1 billion. None of the alleged culprits have been brought to book. It also remains unclear how much the state managed to recoup from the externalised US$1 billion. This has raised questions around Mnangagwa’s sincerity to tackle graft fuelled by the elite.
Efforts by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) to ascertain the source of wealth sustaining lavish lifestyles of the elite through a lifestyle audit have also turned out to be a damp squib, with critics arguing that the taxpayer was not casting the net wider to catch the corrupt big fish.
Mnangagwa’s crackdown on graft has gained little traction with critics accusing him of attempting to use the legislation to subdue real and perceived political opponents while his closest allies walk away scot free.
Even post the military coup of a year ago, critics say there is little to write home about on the anti-corruption front.
After last year’s arrest of former Finance minister Ignatius Chombo on charges of abusing office, he has not been convicted. Only former Energy minister Samuel Undenge, a low-ranking official in the party, was jailed for misappropriating public funds.
Former higher and tertiary education minister Jonathan Moyo, who fled Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the coup, is also accused of embezzling public funds.
The three former cabinet ministers are perceived to have been part of a broader group that had coalesced around Mugabe opposed to Mnangagwa at the height of factional wars gripping Zanu PF.
Mnangagwa’s rhetoric to fight graft has also been amplified by the controversial formation of an-anti corruption unit housed in his office. The special unit houses prosecutors under Mnangagwa’s direct control.
The constitution does not bestow the President with prosecutorial authority, raising questions as to the new administration’s strategy to curtail sleaze.
Critics were quick to dismiss Mnangagwa’s blatant violation of the constitution, suggesting that the specialised crack unit would compete with and undermine the autonomy of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to effectively discharge their mandate.
Rhodes University political science lecturer Mike Mavura argued that Mnangagwa’s crackdown on corruption would be compromised due to his association and links with top Zanu PF officials who are implicated in various corruption scandals. Last week, Mnangagwa’s name was mentioned in a corruption scandal involving Hwange Colliery Company that has led to the collapse of the coal miner.
“Mnangagwa rode into power promising fire and brimstone to those who had externalised money from Zimbabwe. What came out of that pomp and fanfare? Nothing. How many top officials in Zanu PF can be absolved of corruption from a really close forensic inspection of their dealings?
“If Mnangagwa is serious about corruption he will be committing political suicide. Nothing much will come out of this except some low-level official who might be unfortunate enough to be hung out to dry,” Mavura said.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti said the Mnangagwa administration, many of whose leading lights are implicated in various corruption scandals, was incapacitated to fight graft.
“If you are the author, grandfather and godfather of corruption you cannot fight corruption,” Biti said.