Arab twist to plunder ‘confirms deeply rooted criminal syndicate’

Mutsvangwa told reporters that an unnamed former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor had struck a deal with the Arabs where Zimbabwe would exchange gold for US dollars.

THIS week’s shocking claims by a senior Zanu PF official that hefty quantities of gold were spirited to an Arab country over a decade ago confirmed the existence of a deeply rooted criminal syndicate in high offices, according to resource campaigners.

They demanded a ‘thorough’ probe into Zanu PF spokesman Christopher Mutsvangwa’s claims and punishment of those who may have aided the pillage.

However, speaking during a post-monetary policy breakfast meeting in Bulawayo on Wednesday, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mushayavanhu said there was no evidence that gold had been stolen.

Mutsvangwa told reporters that an unnamed former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor had struck a deal with the Arabs where Zimbabwe would exchange gold for US dollars.

He said Zimbabwe did not benefit from the deal.

“They said we can give you the US dollar to the governor, but on condition that you support it with your gold,” Mutsvangwa said.

“It was agreed that we exchange our gold reserves then for US dollars. But for the transaction to be completed, the Arabs demanded or requested that the gold move from our own vaults outside of the country to where they can see the gold themselves, which our former governor duly obliged. The story is mucky after that. According to the former governor, the gold reserves are gone (and) the US dollars didn’t come,” he added.

In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Farai Maguwu, executive director at the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), said Mutsvangwa’s disclosures validated long held suspicions that highly connected individuals were looting Zimbabwe’s resources.

“What we are seeing here is a confirmation and manifestation of a deeply rooted organised crime,” Maguwu told the Independent.

“There are powerful state-embedded actors who have formed networks, syndicates. It is now a transnational organised crime in that foreigners are working with some state actors in Zimbabwe to loot minerals. It spreads beyond gold. (The late former president) Mugabe revealed that diamonds worth US$15 billion were looted. Now we are told gold was stolen by the Arabs. There have been no attempts investigate how we lost the money, how we lost US$15 billion. Mutsvangwa is even smiling as he is talking,” Maguwu said.

Speaking to the Independent following the broadcast of Al Jazeera’s ‘Gold Mafia’ documentary in March last year, which stunned millions, resource campaigners tossed statistics exposing a far worse mineral revenue bloodbath from illicit financial flows (IFFs), as they blamed ‘an unfit for purpose’ anti – graft watchdog and Zimbabwe’s judiciary for propping up ‘industrial scale’ plunder.

Mineral revenue write – downs out of IFFs could be as high as US$15 billion annually, according to Maguwu.

He said precision in tracking IFFs had improved through new investigations.

The estimated lost revenue was higher than government’s target to earn US$12 billion annually from mineral revenues.

Maguwu argued this week it was impossible for one to walk to the central bank to empty gold vaults except for powerful figures in government and politics.

He said influential members in government were behind the Arab plunder disclosures.

“So, for anyone to empty our vaults and there is no national outcry, no panic, there was no investigation, it means those entrusted with protecting our national assets are the ones who let down the guard and looted the gold. It is an inside job,” he said.

Another resource campaigner said: “Sanctions have been used to promote corruption; this is not surprising. We need to know how much gold is involved so we know the looting that has been happening. The problem is that these people don't want to be accountable. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission should hold Mutsvangwa accountable. This threatens national security and confidence in the leaders, because if a governor can do such a thing, then how do you target corruption.”

But Gideon Gono RBZ governor between 2003 and 2013, accused Mutsvangwa of misrepresenting facts.

“Let it be known by all that we are talking here of what could, if it had succeeded, have been a “structured gold-backed transaction” which required mining the gold from underground in the first place, then export it in exchange for funds that would have been delivered and repackaged “fourfold in the first place” involving international banks and all above board,” Gono said in a written response circulated to various media houses.

“But after the first transaction amounting to US$5m deposit was executed by RBZ, the transaction failed on the other side and all parties to the envisaged transaction reimbursed each other, with no prejudice incurred or suffered by any of the parties to the transaction and ultimately, no gold was mined from underground for further export in terms of the initial agreement which is now causing a hullabaloo due people who were not part of the RBZ team trying to confuse the nation.”

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