BY BRIAN CHITEMBA
FORMER first lady Grace Mugabe allegedly made multiple United States dollar cash withdrawals amounting to US$300 000 per day in 2019 from her CBZ Bank account at a time ordinary Zimbabweans were allowed to access a measly ZW$300 — less than US$5 — per week.
An investigation done in collaboration with Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation helping media probe corruption and bad governance, revealed that Grace made numerous cash withdrawals in foreign currency when the majority of citizens were restricted to paltry local currency allocations.
Available records show that she made the illegal withdrawals in the weeks just before her husband, Robert Mugabe — who had ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 — passed away at a private hospital in Singapore where he had been receiving treatment since April 2019.
Mugabe died in early September of the same year.
Grace had been named on a long list of powerful individuals who had externalised millions of dollars in foreign currency in early 2018, just after President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over from Mugabe in a military coup.
Her sons, Robert Jr and Chatunga, had become infamous for splashing mega-dollar parties in neighbouring South Africa during Mugabe’s last days in office.
Mugabe was known for his penchant for foreign junkets and made several trips to the Far East for medical check-ups and family holidays.
To access cash withdrawals, Grace, who withdrew from public life after her husband’s death, would write to a CBZ senior manager in charge of VIP banking identified only as Moyo, who was also her personal banker.
The requests were ritually granted, and Grace’s daughter, Bona Mugabe-Chikore, would then collect the money from CBZ, investigations show.
In one instance — on August 15, 2019 — Grace wrote to Moyo saying: “I wish to withdraw US$300 000 (three hundred thousand United States dollars from my account: Dr Grace N (Ntombizodwa) Mugabe, Kwame Nkrumah branch.”
The letter, seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, was signed by Grace who then sent her emissaries to CBZ to collect the money. The document was stamped as “copy” by CBZ VIP customer services, Kwame Nkrumah Avenue (branch), on August 19, 2019 — exactly four days after Grace had made the request.
Foreign medical bills
It is not clear whether the money was used in Zimbabwe or outside the country, but this was during the time her late husband Mugabe was seeking medical treatment at Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore where he later died on September 6, 2019.
The Independent understands that the August 15, 2019 cash request was made by Grace while she was in Singapore with Mugabe.
“As you can see the letter was scanned and sent on e-mail during her (Grace) stay
with Mugabe who was not well. That is when the cash request was made and it was Bona who then flew out with the money to Singapore,” a source said.
The hefty withdrawals indicate that Grace was able to dribble the central bank, which had put stringent caps on individual and corporate transactions, possibly with the connivance of banking officials.
During that time in 2019, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) had issued directive RU102/2019, which allowed a maximum of US$2 000 cash movement outside Zimbabwe.
RBZ governor John Mangudya told the Independent that such huge transactions like the Mugabes’ required approval by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to check if there was no money laundering and externalisation.
FIU is the investigating arm of the RBZ which was established in 2004 in terms of Section 3 of the Bank Use Promotion and Suppression of Money Laundering Act (Chapter 24:24).
It aims to implement domestic, regional and international best practices and standards on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).
Mangudya said: “I would need to check as withdrawals above the stipulated amounts need approval by the FIU to ensure that they fully comply with anti-money laundering rules and regulations.
Asked what the RBZ was doing to ensure they plug huge cash withdrawals, the RBZ chief said: “The bank (RBZ) is continuously monitoring banks’ compliance with Know Your Customer (KYC) and Customer Due Diligence (CDD) and best practices of handling cash.”
CBZ group CEO Blessing Mudavanhu declined to answer questions which he referred to the bank management.
CBZ group executive marketing and corporate affairs manager Matilda Nyathi said: “CBZ bank adheres to stipulated client withdrawals by the RBZ. Where a client requires to withdraw above the stipulated amounts, an application is made on behalf of the client to RBZ for approval prior.”
Grace’s personal banker, Moyo, could not be tracked down for an explanation.
Grace’s massive cash withdrawals happened two months after the RBZ had issued a statutory instrument which removed the multi-currency system that had been introduced in 2009.
“All domestic transactions shall now be settled in Zimbabwe dollars, the sole legal tender in Zimbabwe which is represented by bond notes and coins and electronic currency, that is, RTGS dollars. Effectively, the use of foreign currency to settle domestic transactions has been removed and the basket of multi-currencies, that is, USD, GBP, ZAR, EUR, BWP, AU$, CNY and Indian Rupee shall only be used to settle international payments or those services exempt from this requirement as per Section 3 of Statutory Instrument 142 of 2019,” reads part of the RBZ directive RU102/2019.
As the multi-currency system was scrapped, the transacting public was allowed to withdraw ZW$300 per week as cash shortages were biting. This forced hundreds of people to sleep in bank queues as they struggled to access cash.
While the masses were going through this nightmare, Grace had the luxury to withdraw a jaw-dropping US$300 000 per day, exposing a worrying gap between the haves and have-nots in Zimbabwe.
“Grace (Mugabe) made several requests to withdraw huge sums of money from her CBZ account and she received the money. She would type the letters to her personal banker Mr Moyo who would then write the account number using a pen. Bona would then go to the bank to get the cash on behalf of her mother. That is the level of luxury they enjoyed while the rest of Zimbabweans were spending several hours to withdraw a paltry ZW$300,” an impeccable source said.
Grace could not be reached for comment as she was said to be out of the country, while her daughter Bona’s mobile phone went unanswered.
After Mugabe left office in November 2017, it was revealed that he was receiving US$20 000 in monthly cash payments and later demanded his pension lump sum of US$467 200 and US$13 333 in cash.
Grace received instalments of US$2 170 in November and December 2017, and January and February 2018. This was done during a time when there were severe cash shortages with ordinary citizens queuing to withdraw ZW$20.
This exposed Mugabe’s hypocrisy who publicly told Zimbabweans to embrace bond notes and electronic money while he had the comfort of accessing cash withdrawals.
Late last year, Mnangagwa passed Statutory Instrument 261 of 2020 for spouses of ex-presidents that guaranteed Grace a relatively lavish lifestyle.
Under the law, surviving spouses of presidents enjoy numerous benefits that include a “Mercedes-Benz E300 or one four-wheel-drive station wagon, or an equivalent or similar class of motor vehicle and one pick-up van” at a cost of slightly more than US$100 000.
The spouse can also get additional vehicles at the sitting president’s discretion, even though the number is not specified under the law.
The state has the full responsibility to fuel and service the vehicles, which will be replaced with a new fleet after every five years.
In addition, the spouse is entitled to a personal assistant, a fully furnished office, a gardener, at least two security personnel and a full-time cook, together with “suitable state residential accommodation for the workers where they would not pay any utility bills”.
Grace, as a surviving spouse, is also entitled to business class air travel twice a year, in addition to the terminal benefits of her late husband.
Graphics by Garikai Tunhira