THE Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has launched an internal investigation into the conduct of some of its senior officials following a tip-off from a whistleblower at alleged underhand dealings regarding the issuance of bureaux de change licences, according to top central bank sources.
This comes in the wake of recent swoops on seven bureaux de change suspected to be involved in illicit foreign currency transactions.
RBZ governor John Mangudya on Thursday last week announced that the operating licences of two private companies, Shons Finance Services and Superdeal Enterprises, which trades as Kwik Forex, had been suspended on allegations that they have not been declaring, or have been under-declaring their foreign currency transactions in breach of the law.
This came after the suspension of bureau de change licences of two other companies, Cash Twenty-Four and Crediconnect, earlier this month. The financial institutions had their bank accounts frozen on similar allegations a fortnight ago. Cash Twenty-Four has since admitted to the offence and paid an administrative fine of ZW$2,5 million.
The central bank also swooped on three other bureaux de change companies, namely Stallion Financial Services, Forbes Financial Services and Juso Global, which were allegedly operating without the required licences.
The RBZ and financial services sector sources said the central bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) were investigating how the institutions’ licences were issued since February last year when the government liberalised the exchange rate.
According to the sources, a whistleblower alerted the RBZ to possible corruption by central bank officials, which could have resulted in some companies that did not qualify, being allegedly licenced.
The sources said questions were also being raised about the lack of due diligence on the part of those charged with granting licences.
“There was an anonymous correspondence to the FIU early this month alleging that some RBZ officials could have had their palms greased in exchange for these bureau de change licences, which explains why there is this mess. So, in addition to investigating these companies’ operations, the FIU is also interrogating the processes of issuance of licences,” a source at the bank said.
In written responses to the Zimbabwe Independent, Mangudya said the so-called whistleblower should come forward with this information so that they can institute investigations into the matter.
He also said he had not been alerted of the whistleblower’s correspondence.The central bank boss, however, said the bank had sufficient mechanisms to deal with any corrupt officials.
“If there is anyone involved in corrupt activities, the bank takes very stern measures against such malpractice and the so-called informer should approach the bank with the necessary information,” Mangudya said.
He also dismissed allegations that the central bank does not carry out proper due diligence exercises when granting bureau de change operating licences, saying the RBZ sticks to stringent procedures laid down by the law. He said the current cases were a result of market indiscipline.
“Bureaux de change are licenced in terms of the Exchange Control (Authorised Dealer with Limited Authority) Order published in the Statutory Instrument 104 of 2015 which is complemented by Operational Guidelines for Bureaux de Change. The Operational Guidelines for Bureaux de Change provide for specific requirements and incorporates operational improvements to the framework that is done through Exchange Control Directives and Circulars,” Mangudya said.
“The operational guidelines detail the licensing framework and include an application form which guides the applicant as to the information required to enable Exchange Control to assess the suitability of the applicant for a Bureau de Change licence. Any applicant who meets the set minimum licencing criteria is eligible for a bureau de change licence.
“We should not confuse market indiscipline with the method of granting operating licences. The bank’s surveillance team is seized with the matter to ensure total compliance with rules and regulations and will not hesitate to deal with unscrupulous behaviour of some bureau de change,” he added.
The minimum criteria include a probity test where the applicant is required to provide: Zimbabwe Republic Police clearance of directors and officers of bureaux de change; Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) tax clearance certificate; anti-money money laundering certificate and declarations by the shareholders/directors of the bureau de change that they have not received any criminal or regulatory penalty on matters relating any financial activity.
Corruption allegations related to foreign currency dealings have stalked the RBZ for a long time now.