Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s family is under fresh scrutiny over alleged links to criminal syndicates after his wife and son were implicated in a high-profile gold smuggling case.
A fortnight ago, Henrietta Rushwaya, a small scale miner, was caught trying to smuggle six kilogrammes of processed gold onto a flight to Dubai at the Robert Mugabe International Airport.
It was established that the gold was from the state-owned refiner, sparking speculation that powerful government officials were behind the scam.
Ms Rushwaya subsequently implicated a prominent businessman as the owner of the gold worth over $300,000.
This led to the arrest of the businessman of Pakistani origin and state security agents, including one of President Mnangagwa’s body guards, who allegedly facilitated the movement of the gold.
The president’s bodyguard told detectives that the gold belonged to First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and her son Collins Mnangagwa.
The two’s names have featured prominently in bail hearings for members of the syndicate, with the government accusing the suspects of “name dropping”.
Ms Mnangagwa has since distanced herself from the smuggling case, saying criminals were abusing her name.
“I do not engage in illegal narrow minded pursuits like gold smuggling,” she said in a statement. “I am greatly aggravated by the continuation of these false stories.”
The denials, however, have not placated government critics, who say the First family is trying to cover its tracks.
The attempted gold smuggling case is the second scandal that has sucked in the president’s family this year.
Mr Mnangagwa was named in a $60 million scandal involving the supply of medical goods to fight Covid-19 at inflated prices in June.
The Zimbabwean leader fired his then Health minister Obadiah Moyo following his arrest in connection with the scandal.
Critics say the gold smuggling case and Covid-19 supplies scandal have a common thread as the masterminds in both cases were at some point photographed with the president.
CONCERN ABOUT PLUNDER
In the wake of the gold smuggling scandal, 20 local civil society organisations issued a joint communique saying they were concerned about the level of plunder of the country’s national resources by political elites. They said criminal syndicates that use political links to smuggle precious minerals had become entrenched under President Mnangagwa.
“We are deeply concerned that criminal syndicates have spread their tentacles on major minerals like gold, diamonds and black granite,” the groups said. “We are equally concerned with the culture of impunity that characterises cases of grand corruption or those involving the illegal exploitation of mineral wealth by political elites.”
The groups say Zimbabwe could be losing $20 billion annually to illicit financial flows involving precious minerals.
“We note with grave concern the rampant theft and smuggling of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth by political elites,” they added.
Last year, President Mnangagwa said a Dubai based company had informed him that it bought gold worth $60 million from the parallel market in Zimbabwe.
“No one has been arrested even though the company, which spoke to President Mnangagwa volunteered the details of the individuals to him,” the groups said. “The criminal gangs are behind the current economic muddle and political instability.”
Zanu PF spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa claimed that the president’s family name was being abused by criminals.
He said the ruling party recently fired four people who had used the names of senior party leaders to commit crimes. “We have noted with concerns that these name droppers, conmen and conwomen, are abusing the names of senior leaders in the party, government and the first family. They allege that they are relatives of senior leaders and go about conning people in the name of our leadership.”
According to the 2019 Corruption Perception Index, Zimbabwe ranked 158 out of 180 least corrupt countries.
One of the reasons given by the military for toppling long time ruler Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup was that he had allowed corruption to fester among his lieutenants.