Now Daily Investigation
If there is anyone with a licence to steal in Zimbabwe, it is Grace Mugabe, the wife of the ageing dictator Robert Mugabe. Not only does she own 50 choice farms and game reserves seized without compensation from white and black farmers as well as numerous other businesses. Reports suggest she has looted a whopping $15 billion worth of the world-famous state-owned Marange diamonds and stashed most of the money in south east Asian banks and in properties abroad. Her rival, sacked vice president Joice Mujuru made off with $9 billion worth of the gemstones, most of them shipped clandestinely out of the country through Dubai by her daughter Nyasha Mujuru Del Campo and her late former army commander husband, General Solomon Mujuru, according to confidential diamond industry documents seen by Now Daily. The question which has not been answered so far is: how did this daring grand theft happen?
Unravelling just what happened in Marange can be a nightmare. There is a very thin paper trail and the information is guarded securely by dangerous army types who only give it out in dribs and drabs, for money. While the minister of mines Walter Chidhakwa was telling parliament recently that the government earned a pitiful $250 million in six years of mining in Marange, other sources say that this was just confirmation of a major rip-off by state officials and their accomplices.
It seems that despite its hyped up performance in Marange, also known as Chiadzwa, the state failed to realise the billions that were expected by Zanu PF chefs when looting of the diamonds began. In his budget statement, finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said the government’s expected earnings from the Marange diamonds had drastically been revised downwards.
“It is impossible that the government could earn just $250 million from Marange diamonds in six years,” a senior military official who was in the looting party told us at a plush Borrowdale Brooke, Harare villa he bought for $1 million with the stolen diamond money. “I know of individuals who made that much during our operations in Chiadzwa and are still getting millions by other means.”
The Marange claims were formerly owned by the British-registered African Consolidated Resources but were seized by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, which parcelled them out to the Chinese Red Army in exchange for weapons and other military gear, including a $5 million super-computer capable of hacking phones and computers and for spying on people. Only a small portion of the official production went onto the formal market, according to one of the reports. In fact, most of the stones were shipped to China by the shipload without being sorted or processed, and their real value will never be known, Now Daily was told. But, as an indication of the quality of diamonds mined in Marange, one pink pebble smaller than a golf ball fetched $30 million in Hong Kong in 2014.
“What was happening in Chiadzwa is that excavators would just pile up the sand in areas that were known to be rich in diamonds. The sand would be loaded onto army trucks and taken to Beira to be loaded onto ships to be transported to China.”
The Chinese army officers in charge of this operation were out of time and very impatient to get the sand to the Indian Ocean, it emerged. The sorting was done in Hong Kong and no one knows how much those diamonds were worth. Other unsorted stones were flown out by Chinese army Fokker planes. The officers were told this was Mrs Mugabe’s deal and they were not to ask questions. But some daring officers stole bags of sand along the way and they made millions of dollars on the black market from the stones they realised through that racket, said the army officer, declining to be named for fear of reprisals.
Reports circulating in the tightly-controlled international diamond industry accuse Grace Mugabe of stealing diamonds to the tune of $15 billion since 2008 through her connections to the military brass running the show in Marange. Joice and Solomon Mujuru are reputed to have earned $9 billion from their own efforts, which started way before official mining operations began in 2009.
Grace Mugabe has an undeclared interest in Mbada Diamonds and several other firms. She uses her husband president Robert Mugabe’s former helicopter pilot Robert Mhlanga as her conduit. Mhlanga himself has become a billionaire from this great diamond heist and was exposed when he started building an expensive villa on the beach in Cape Town, South Africa. Grace Mugabe prefers to keep her expenditures secret to avoid media scrutiny but recently made it into the headlines when she bought a $6 million condominium in Singapore for her daughter Bona. She also got entangled in multi-million dollar disputes after being hit by a bogus Chinese property agent who conned her after promising to secretly buy properties for her in Hong Kong.
The murder of government diamond investigator Edward Chindori-Chininga in 2013 was not meant to hide much, according to our sources. What the Guruve South member of parliament and chairperson of the parliamentary committee on mines and energy knew then were ‘open secrets’, government insiders told us.
“The killing of Chindori-Chininga was meant to create a diversion and send a chilling warning to others that revealing what was about to happen could be dangerous,” said a source.
The reason for this drama was that Zanu PF was about to execute the most brazen organised theft of the Marange diamonds since the gemstones were discovered in 2006. According to government documents seen by Now Daily, whole inventories worth hundreds of millions of dollars from state diamond entities were transferred to Mbada Diamonds, a firm controlled by the Mugabes. Within a three-week period in mid-2013, the government’s flagship Marange Resources Limited had been looted dry by Grace Mugabe’s acolytes.
Although Mugabe had been assured by reputable surveys that he would trounce his Movement for Democratic Change rival Morgan Tsvangirai in presidential elections scheduled for the end of July 2013, nothing was being left to chance. The bitter experience of losing to Tsvangirai in 2008 was still fresh in the minds of many Zanu PF hawks. If Mugabe lost power again, even for a minute, he would lose control of the Marange fields, reputed to be the largest alluvial diamond deposits in the world. He and his army handlers were not going to allow that to happen.
Two weeks before the elections, Mugabe ordered the merger of all diamond companies in the country, except Rio Tinto’s Murowa Diamonds and River Ranch Mine, which was seized at gunpoint by Gen Mujuru prior to the scramble in Marange. Mugabe’s directive appeared reasonable at the time, in the wake of Chindori-Chininga’s report which exposed massive corruption and abuse of power by then mines minister Obert Mpofu. Mugabe claimed that there were too many players in Marange, which was the cause of the corruption. What then happened is that amid the confusion created by the half-baked merger directive, billions worth of diamonds ready for the market disappeared into Grace Mugabe’s pockets.
The cost of failure in the Marange diamond fields has come back to haunt Zimbabwe. Once reputed as a potential icon of international diamond mining with community responsibility barring the Operation Hakudzokwi/No Return army murders, the country’s gemstones industry has turned into a haven of corruption and diversion of state funds. Even the taxwoman is complaining
The recent admission in parliament by mines minister Walter Chidhakwa that the Zimbabwe government earned a paltry US$250 million from the much-vaunted Marange diamonds since the scramble for the rich fields in the eastern highlands started in 2008 came as a shock to many. This is an astronomical reduction from figures circulating in the international market that some $30 billion worth of diamonds were extracted and sold from Marange, mainly through the Chinese Red Army.
What the minister of mines and mining development failed to acknowledge is that money was stolen, which is the real reason for such a precarious financial position, which is now public knowledge through the auditor-general’s reports. Considering what the Zanu PF government was expecting and what the stones are said to have fetched internationally, the revelation by Chidhakwa probably confirms the auditor’s report that the gems were stolen by officials who sold them on the black market.
“With regard to dividends which are declared by the companies, I want to advise this House that since the discovery of diamonds in Marange except in the case of Murowa, the dividends that were declared to Treasury amount to $259 452 422. This is the dividend that has been declared out of companies operating in Marange,” said Chidhakwa.
The latest report by auditor-general Mildred Chiri, however, paints a picture of massive corruption, gross incompetence and mismanagement involving state firms operating in Marange. The chaos is clearly meant to frustrate any attempt at accounting for the missing gemstones.
For instance, Marange Resources Ltd –wholly owned by government through the parastatal Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation – went into some awkward arrangement to have their stones shipped from the Mbada Diamonds sorting room. Large amounts of diamonds disappeared.
“Marange Resources could not access the sorting records for stocks shipped to Mbada Diamonds,” said a Marange management official, confirming that Mpofu and Zanu PF hawks ran the show on behalf of the first lady.
Managers at Marange Resources said the decision to team up with Mbada was not theirs. Mbada Diamonds is controlled by president Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe through Robert Mhlanga, the president’s former Air Force helicopter pilot. So the self-made confusion arising from the current reported merger of the diamond mines is further aimed at hiding things and facilitating looting, it emerged.
Reports in the international media gave evidence of how Mrs Mugabe had funnelled around $15 billion from the Marange fields to offshore accounts in Asia. None of that has ever been proved by local regulators, even in the current scramble for Mugabe’s succession, where any wrong-doing is quickly exposed.
The tragedy, humanitarian experts say, is that while a few officials enrich themselves and their families and friends through corruption, it is ordinary Zimbabweans who will once again be forced to pay for the rot. The mess at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, they say, where the whole nation is now paying for the corruption of a few individuals is likely to be replicated in Marange, where the companies have run up huge debts. Unless the people say ‘no’, the stealing will continue and only get worse, say analysts.
© Now Media 2015. All Rights Reserved.
© Now Media 2015. All Rights Reserved.