INSOLVENT flag carrier Air Zimbabwe Private Limited (AirZim) is still active in the United Kingdom (UK) under the same name, with financial records showing that the moribund airline has £4 million (US$5 million) in its bank account.
Documents also show its board of directors is still serving, nearly a year after the troubled airline was declared bankrupt and placed under administration, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
The embattled airline was placed under administration in August last year after controversially diverting US$41 million meant for its recapitalisation to a murky private airline, Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways).
International accounting and consultancy firm Grant Thornton was appointed administrator of AirZim in August 2018, with a clear mandate to turn around the grounded airline within six months through re-opening lucrative routes and scouting for viable partnerships. According to records at the Companies House (UK), AirZim is still active in that country and registered under file number FC010553, with 11 of its 21 board members still “active”.
In the UK, AirZim is domiciled at 844 Norfolk House, Gatwick Airport, Crawley West, Sussex. Companies House is the equivalent of the Companies Registry in Zimbabwe, with the mandate to register company information as well as making it available to the public.
Records at the Companies House seen by the Independent show that the AirZim board in London reported directly to the then Minister of Transport Obert Mpofu, who was also one of the only two signatories with access to the airline’s Barclays Bank account. At the time of going to print, it could not be established who the other signatory was.
According to the records lodged at Companies House, Mpofu appointed the 21-member board in 2014 which was led by Abdulman Eric Harid.
Harid, who once served as Comptroller and Auditor-General, came under severe criticism for doubling as AirZim’s chairperson and general manager in 2014.
“(The board) reports and (is) accountable to Ministry of Transport on all activities of the airline. Dual signatories required to bank,” part of the board’s terms of reference, filed with Companies House, read.
While the board of the beleaguered airline was disbanded in Zimbabwe, subsequently leading to its placement under administration, records at Companies House show that the entity, which traded in the UK as Air Zimbabwe Corporation from “18 July 1980 until July 2006, changed its name to Air Zimbabwe Private Limited, while its account, standing at £4 million is being handled by Barclays Bank Plc”.
Adding to the intriguing AirZim plot, records at Companies House also show that another entity called Air Zimbabwe Limited is operating in that country, under registration number 10825743. The entity has Natalie Chance as its sole director, appointed in that role on June 19, 2017 and residing at 74 Winslet Place, Oxford Road, Reading, UK, RG30 1EW.
Aviation sources told the Independent that AirZim UK, although no longer operating officially as a business, was being used as a conduit to siphon funds from the parent company in Zimbabwe assets, while also concealing wealth accumulated by various individuals.
“Yes, Air Zimbabwe is still operating in the UK, not as a business though. Someone is in control of the London company; otherwise it would not have 11 active directors. Currently, there is money and assets belonging to AirZim in UK. This in part explains the underworld workings of Air Zimbabwe, you get an understanding of how the airline was systematically run down,” a source told the Independent.
According to records filed at the Companies House (UK), Musara Fungayi Stanley, Faranisi Rudo Mavis, Harid Abdulman Eric, Mangwengwende Tadiwanashe, Mukudzeyi Mpinyuri, Austin Simbai, Muzondo Luckson, Noko Gift, Zenda Patience and Zvandasara Edwin are among the 11 members who are still listed as “active” by the London-registered entity.
Grant Thornton director for transaction and infrastructure and advisory Tonderayi Mukubvu confirmed the existence of AirZim in the UK, underscoring that the administrator was currently in the process of quantifying the value of the airline’s assets in London.
“It is part of the exercise we are doing to quantify the value of assets in the UK,” Mukubvu told the Independent, in reference to a building that the airline owns in London. He, however, said the beleaguered airline did not “have any monies in the UK”.
“As far as we are knowledgeable, there are no monies in UK that belong to Air Zimbabwe,” Mukubvu said, noting that as part of the turnaround plan, the airline had strategically maintained its London property in anticipation of long-term plans to ply that same route again.
However, Mukubvu would not explain the relationship between AirZim Private Limited and Air Zimbabwe Limited, both registered by Companies House in the UK.
“I will look into your inquiry and revert back,” Mukubvu said.
Curiously, one of the former directors, listed under the name Mugabe Gabriel and residing at 2304 Kambanji Drive, Kambanji, Glen Lorne, Harare, was appointed a director of the UK-based Air Zimbabwe Private Limited on August 7 2008. He resigned on December 31 2012. Aviation sources who spoke to the Independent this week raised alarm on the activities of the UK-registered firm, raising concern that the £4 million sitting in its Barclays Bank Plc account could have been spirited away by the entity’s directors who are still “active” members of the airline.
“In Zimbabwe, AirZim has been declared insolvent and is struggling to pay creditors while it is still active in the UK with active directors who are however residing in Zimbabwe. The UK company, as of early this year had £4 million in its account. Is the administrator aware of that? How is that money going to be repatriated back to Zimbabwe? Clearly, this money is as good as lost,” a source close to the goings-on at AirZim said this week.