Mugabe's cronies 'strip Zimbabwe of business assets'

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The Independent Online

President Robert Mugabe's cronies are acquiring private and public industrial enterprises in Zimbabwe at well below the market value.

Many listed companies are apparently being forced to sell substantial equity to members of the President's inner circle, who have also purchased large stakes in listed companies, which are mostly white-owned or state-owned.

The Zimbabwe branch of the anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, said Mugabe aides were panicking because the leader's 23-year reign was reaching its inevitable end. John Makumbe, the branch's chairman, said that they were now "systematically stripping Zimbabwe of its valuable assets". He added: "[This] is normally associated with dying regimes.

"The Mugabe cronies obviously know that the conditions of mismanagement and corruption under which they have thrived will soon close with Mugabe's departure ... They want to make as much as they can now and continue ruling the roost once he is gone.

"We have tried to get information about the beneficiaries of disposed state assets and other transfers in public companies but we continually hit a brick wall."

Mr Mugabe said this week that he would introduce legislation compelling all foreign-owned companies to sell at least 20 per cent of their equity to local Zimbabweans.

This legislation may eventually provide legal cover for his associates.

Mr Makumbe said: "To even suggest that what we are seeing here is black economic empowerment is an insult ... We are witnessing massive plunder of the economy by Mugabe's cronies."

He listed a number of recently announced deals in which he said there had been no transparency. He claimed that the deals had benefited known allies of Mr Mugabe. There were no broad-based criteria for empowering ordinary black businessmen in Zimbabwe, he said.

Philip Chiyangwa, a top Mugabe aide, MP and chairman of the ruling Zanu-PF party in Mashonaland West province, is now the second biggest shareholder in the country's largest cement manufacturer, Circle Cement.

Mutumwa Mawere, another senior Mugabe aide, has acquired a controlling stake in the largest steel dealer and manufacturer in Zimbabwe, Macsteel.

Oliver Chidawu, a former Zanu-PF mayor of Harare and a supporter of Mr Mugabe, is involved in a consortium that has taken over the majority stake in the nickel producer, Bindura Nickel Corporation.

Ray Kaukonde, the powerful party chairman of Mashonaland East province, led a consortium that took over the controlling stake in the milling company National Foods.

Mr Makumbe said that the consortia acquiring key assets consisted exclusively of Mugabe supporters. "There is no transparency whatsoever in these deals and they don't benefit the people," he said.

"Mugabe has no proper vehicle to properly empower the ordinary people. It's all about who gets what among his cronies before his reign ends."

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Zanu-PF are widely expected to resume dialogue that will ultimately lead to Mr Mugabe's exit from power.

Tendai Biti, the MDC's spokesman for economic affairs, condemned what he described as the daylight robbery of Zimbabwe's assets by Mr Mugabe's associates.

He described the asset transfers to the politically connected as the "second greatest scam" after the land grabs that have led to Mugabe cronies now controlling virtually all of Zimbabwe's commercial agriculture sector.