Minister held over US$95m scandal

TOURISM and Hospitality Industry minister Prisca Mupfumira was yesterday held by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) over an alleged US$95 million corruption scandal emanating from a National Social Security Authority (Nssa) forensic audit report which details a series of corrupt activities at the US$1 billion state pension entity, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.

By Nyasha Chingono

Mupfumira’s arrest marks a flying start by new Zacc chairperson Loice Matanda-Moyo, a former High Court judge, who was recently sworn in as head of the anti-corruption body amid a chilling warning: “Corruption is a vice that must be fought strenuously. My message to the corrupt is that they must stop corruption immediately!”

Matanda-Moyo is the wife of Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo, a major power broker in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Officials close to the investigations said yesterday said Mupfumira — who is not a stranger to corruption allegations — is facing five charges of criminal abuse of office during her tenure as Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister between 2014 and 2017. Her arrest comes after Zanu PF youths last month named her as one of the corrupt ministers in a name-and-shame campaign.

Zacc officials say the charges flow from transactions involving abuse of funds, a car, a questionable deal with a local commercial bank and some dubious investment schemes.

Zacc officials told the Independent Mupfumira could be hit with more charges given that investigating officers are still probing several other cases contained in the stinging audit report which current Public Service minister Sekai Nzenza had been refusing to release even under immense pressure from parliament.

The damning report is now expected to be tabled before parliament during the first week of next month.

“As we confirmed in our terse statement earlier, the Minister of Tourism has been taken in and held while a due process was being pursued,” a Zac official said. “She is basically being charged with criminal abuse of office in terms of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Her cases range from abuse of office to prejudice which resulted in the loss of US$95 million at Nssa during her tenure as Public Service minister. The charges are too many, for now we have only officially charged her with five counts and more are coming. She will remain detained and will appear in court tomorrow (today).”

Another Zacc official said Mupfumira would be charged in detail for “criminal abuse of duty as public officer” as she has allegedly committed a series of offences “contrary to or inconsistent with her duty as a public official”.

Depending on the specific charges, if found guilty of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer, Mupfumira could be liable to a fine or imprisonment for period not exceeding 15 years, or both.

Last night her lawyers were running around trying to secure her release. Mupfumira’s lawyer, Charles Chinyama, could not comment as he asked to be called after 30 minutes, but was no longer answering calls afterwards.

Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Paul Nyathi declined to comment, referring inquiries to Zacc.

Matanda-Moyo, who had earlier indicated that she would respond, could not be reached for comment later.

Zacc, however, had confirmed earlier Mupfumira was picked up by its investigators.

“We confirm that the Minister of Tourism is currently in our custody for questioning and possible due processes,” Zacc said. “We cannot respond to any questions at the moment as this is a live process. The press will be informed through a release later in the day. We’ll keep updating.”

Mupfumira’s arrest comes as Mnangagwa said in Namibia yesterday that his government is determined to fight corruption, which he described as a “cancer”.

“Only last week I swore in the new team, anti-corruption commissioners,” Mnangagwa said. “The former commission had no arresting powers, but these have now been given; so there is no excuse for the current commissioners.”
Mnangagwa this month also warned that he had given the current Zacc “teeth”.

“I officiated at the swearing-in ceremony of members of Zacc. Please all citizens, be warned that acts of corruption will not be condoned. Corruption continues to rear its ugly head, but be warned that acts of corruption will not be tolerated. I have created teeth to the new team,” Mnangagwa said.

The government has been trying to keep the Nssa audit report under wraps. There have been frantic efforts by Nzenza to avoid releasing the explosive report which reportedly implicates some other ministers, Nssa executives and top business persons in the Nssa looting spree.

Nzenza has been ducking and diving over the report where millions of pensioners’ funds are reported to have been plundered. The current dragnet is expected to suck in more top officials as the new anti-corruption swoops on suspects.

Nzenza has refused to table the report in parliament despite several requests by legislators raising suspicion that government was trying to run a cover-up operation.

There was drama in the National Assembly on Wednesday after opposition MDC MPs demanded that Nzenza be charged with contempt of parliament for refusing to table the Nssa forensic audit.

However, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi hit back telling the opposition MPs that the executive needed time to scrutinise the report and act before tabling it in parliament.

Government says the report will be tabled in parliament during the first week of August.

Mupfumira returned from England this week after having been with three other ministers to watch the Netball World Cup.

Yesterday’s move was the first arrest by the re-constituted Zacc now chaired by Matanda-Moyo. Eight commissioners of the constitutional body were sworn-in last week, with Mnangagwa saying he had given the new commission “the necessary teeth” to bite, including the power of arrest.

Mupfumira features prominently in the audit which exposes Nssa corruption, with millions said to have been looted from the statutory pension scheme.

Government set up the compulsory national social security pension scheme, Nssa, established by an Act of Parliament in 1989.

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