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Zanu-PF-affiliated empowerment trust linked to Zimbabwe’s notorious Central Intelligence Organisation — Sentry report

Zanu-PF-affiliated empowerment trust linked to Zimbabwe’s notorious Central Intelligence Organisation — Sentry report
An election poster for the Zanu-PF party leader and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare on 27 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

An empowerment company affiliated to Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party — and allegedly involved in voter intimidation — has close links to the country’s notorious Central Intelligence Organisation, investigators allege.

Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ) claims on its website that it is a trust formed in affiliation with Zanu-PF merely to gain business opportunities for its members. It insists, “We have no association with the Government or any of its agencies…”

But The Sentry, a US-based investigative organisation that tracks corruption, alleges in a new report that it has discovered that several FAZ trustees had links to the deputy director-general of the country’s notorious Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Asher Walter Tapfumaneyi.

“The CIO’s claims that it has nothing to do with Forever Associates Zimbabwe ring hollow given what The Sentry has uncovered,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry.

“FAZ needs to urgently answer the question, ‘Where does its money come from?’ Claiming they got millions from ‘anonymous well-wishers’ won’t cut it.”

The Sentry’s report warned banks and firms doing business with FAZ of an array of risks, including potentially providing support to the state security agency CIO which was “notorious for human rights abuses and undermining democracy”.

It recommends heightened banking due diligence as well as further inquiries into the company’s ownership structure.

The Sentry said the FAZ trust was established by associates and family members of Tapfumaneyi to help the ruling Zanu-PF win the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections

“Both Tapfumaneyi and FAZ deny that the CIO controls the trust. However, this alert provides further details about the past business dealings of Tapfumaneyi and one of FAZ’s trustees that help confirm Zimbabwean media reports about the spy chief’s relationship to the entity.”

The Sentry’s press release added that “FAZ declined to identify its funders, claiming that it is financed by ‘well-wishers who prefer not to be named’. 

“FAZ’s official deeds reveal that its trustees and founders include Tapfumaneyi’s family and associates, including Tangisai Tapera, his key ally and business partner in a past oil deal with Iran. 

“FAZ’s activities — including a large get-out-the-vote operation — may have helped the ruling party win the election. Observers, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and European Union (EU) poll monitors, reported FAZ’s presence at thousands of polling stations, where its reported links to Zanu-PF and the security services may have intimidated rural voters.

“FAZ also spent at least $4-million — a large sum of money in Zimbabwean politics — importing 160 or more Toyota Hilux pickup trucks for Zanu-PF candidates. FAZ declined to comment when asked whether their activities intimidated voters or whether their spending tipped the electoral scales toward Zanu-PF.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe fails its democracy test as Emmerson Mnangagwa sworn in for second presidential term

The preliminary report of the SADC election observation mission on the August 2023 elections said the mission had been informed “that the rural vote may be compromised by alleged intimidation attributed to a group called Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), which is said to be a quasi-security intelligence organisation”. 

“The group was said to have been deployed to wards and around 36,000 villages. The allegations were that people were intimidated to vote in a particular manner and were warned that it would be easy to determine who voted against certain parties.”

The SADC report said some stakeholders the mission had consulted accused “a shadowy organisation called Forever Associates Zimbabwe … of conducting a country-wide exercise of electoral intimidation. 

“Our observers confirmed the existence of this group as its officials or agents were easily identifiable at some polling stations as they were dressed in regalia emblazoned with the FAZ name and were accredited local observers. 

“These, and other unidentified persons who were not polling officials were also observed taking down the voters’ names before they cast their votes. In some areas, voters were intimidated by the actions of these individuals.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe opposition leader Nelson Chamisa calls for fresh poll to ‘exit crisis’ after ‘flawed’ results

The Sentry also recommended that, “The government of Zimbabwe should cease using state resources to favour one party. 

“Zimbabwean electoral law should be updated to introduce campaign expenditure limits; establish public registers of political donations and expenditure by parties; and extend spending limits and the requirement to register donations and expenditure to party affiliates and other entities who are acting in concert with, or otherwise supporting, a party’s election campaign.

“Banks and firms doing business with the FAZ trust and company should conduct enhanced due diligence consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They should look into the ownership structure of the entity to identify and mitigate risks associated with the direct or indirect support for a state security agency whose members are accused of human rights abuses and undermining democracy.” DM

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