Van Hoogstraten to take over top bank and colliery in Zimbabwe

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The Independent Online

Thousands of white businessmen have had their properties confiscated over their suspected support for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. But thanks to Mr van Hoogstraten's close links to the Mugabe regime, the government is not resisting his plans.

Mr van Hoogstraten has quietly increased his equity in NMB Bank to about 20 per cent. He has also become the second largest shareholder in Wankie Colliery, the largest coal operation in Africa outside South Africa.

The British tycoon, who once branded nearly 5,000 white farmers evicted by Mr Mugabe from their properties "white trash", is now the single largest shareholder in NMB bank, according to the bank's shareholder register released at its recent annual meeting.

Mr van Hoogstraten had made it known at the meeting that he was now the single largest shareholder in NMB via his UK-registered firm, Messina Investments and Palisades. He stated his position after he took the floor to express his displeasure over what he saw as poor corporate governance practices at the bank.

He is now set to take control of NMB via a planned rights offer to increase the bank's capitalisation.

The tycoon's complete takeover of the bank would be made possible by the absence of the bank's founders, who fled to London last year after President Mugabe decreed a law allowing the police to jail businessmen suspected of economic crimes for a month without bail.

The original four owners of the bank, Julius Makoni, James Mushore, Otto Chekeche and Francis Zimunya, opted to flee the country after police tried to arrest them for allegedly moving currency illegally out of the country.

Mr Mugabe's critics had accused the police of abusing the law to target black businessmen accused of links to the opposition MDC.

The four are expected to relinquish most of their stake in the bank at the rights offer to recapitalise the respected bank, which was once among the top 30 in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr van Hoogstraten is in pole position to assume their shareholding as he won't face any resistance from regulatory authorities. He has already made his intentions known to other shareholders.

The Wankie Colliery is majority owned by the government. Mr van Hoogstraten has raised his equity to become the second largest shareholder in the gigantic coal mine with about 32 percent.

He is expected to gain control of the mine when the Zimbabwean government floats a multi-million pound rights issue to raise money to re-capitalise the mine which is suffering from the country's three digit inflation and needs new cash to import equipment.

He is one of the few whites whose land was spared because of his links to Mr Mugabe's ruling party which he has previously admitted bankrolling.

His Central Estates, a vast expanse of land wedged between Mvuma and Lalapanzi in Zimbabwe's Midlands Province, was not seized by the government for resettlement when virtually all of the other white neighbouring estates were confiscated.

Senior government officials had eyed the property and tried to seize it, after Mr van Hoogstraten was jailed in England. But they failed to gain control of it after the House of Lords upheld his appeal against a conviction for the manslaughter of a business rival. He was released after spending a year in jail.

Mr van Hoogstraten immediately visited Zimbabwe to protect his estates. He boasted that Mr Mugabe had been the first to call to congratulate him for his acquittal.

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