NORTHERN EXPOSURE OP-ED
Al Jazeera exposes Zimbabwe government’s gold smuggling ‘laundromat’
The sentiment circulating among some Zimbabweans after the first episode of the Al Jazeera documentary is: ‘We are not shocked by this.’ Zimbabweans have known these people are corrupt for a long time. Several reports have been published, documenting organised crime perpetrated by those in the Zimbabwean government. We know they run fuel cartels, diamond cartels, gold cartels and more. But even with that knowledge, the documentary has left me shaken.
I cannot wrap my head around the idea that the president of a country, even one as corrupt, ruthless and incompetent as ours, can be implicated in turning the state into a laundromat for dirty money. My stomach is churning at the thought that anyone with money can waltz into Zimbabwe and get whatever they want, including a meeting with the president himself, apparently at the cost of $200,000.
How depraved does a government have to be, to attend a global climate change summit – where the world is trying to find solutions to severe challenges that most affect countries in the global South – and use it as an opportunity to facilitate and participate in financial crimes?
The documentary has a scene where, in Glasgow in 2022 at the COP26 summit, Zimbabwe’s ambassador-at-large, who goes by the name of Uebert Angel (born Uebert Madzanire), held a meeting with what he thought were clients for their money laundering scheme. Unbeknown to him, they were investigative journalists from Al Jazeera.
The undercover journalists told Angel and his team that they needed to launder $1.2-billion.
An excited Angel told them he was “Number 2” in Zimbabwe – after the president – and had the power to sign any agreement or treaty with anyone or any government without the involvement of the president. He called himself a plenipotentiary.
He also assured the “potential clients” that he had the president on speed dial and could call him and put him on speaker phone. However, the person to call for this particular type of service was the president of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, Henrietta Rushwaya.
Rushwaya is President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s niece. She was recently acquitted of attempting to bribe an airport official after having been caught trying to smuggle six kilograms of gold out of Robert Mugabe International Airport. In her defence, she claimed she had picked up the wrong bag when she left home for the airport. It is this same Rushwaya who Angel called with the news that they had prospective clients wanting to launder $1.2-billion dollars.
‘Nothing to worry about’
Rushwaya told Angel it was doable and explained how the scam worked. No questions were asked about the source of the funds. The “clients” repeatedly asked Angel if he understood that it was dirty money and asked for assurances that they wouldn’t get into trouble. Angel told them they had nothing to worry about.
He told them he could transport the cash to Zimbabwe himself – as he was a diplomat, nobody would search his bag which he would seal with tape marked “diplomat”. He went on to say that he could put a person in his bag and still be able to smuggle them into the country.
Zanu-PF supporters on social media have been at pains to explain that since Zimbabwe is under sanctions, it can only sell its gold on the black market. Audio was leaked, allegedly of Rushwaya arrogantly telling Zimbabweans off for being ignorant and gullible puppets of white people. She said Americans wanted Zimbabwe to collapse, but the country had found a way to bust the sanctions.
That argument might make some sense if they were busting the sanctions through legal means. I won’t even bother going into how the gains from these illicit gold sales are enriching only those involved in the laundering. The point is – it’s dirty money.
That state institutions are being used in the unethical business of taking illegally sourced funds and laundering them for criminals is unthinkable.
In a world where governments all over are working together to fight illicit financial flows, our government is aiding and abetting criminals and actively breaking international law by laundering money – at a state level. DM/MC
In February 2021, Maverick Citizen published an exclusive report on corruption and cartels in Zimbabwe. At the time, we were lambasted by senior members of Zanu-PF and their colleagues in some of the industries the report exposed. The Al Jazeera report bears out the findings of the earlier report. Litigation for defamation was even started by one of the people named in the report, which he later unconditionally withdrew and tendered costs.