HARARE – President Robert Mugabe claimed last month that former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) chairperson Godwills Masimirembwa extorted $6 million from a Ghanaian company that sought to invest in the Marange diamond field on a joint venture agreement with the State-owned firm.
Masimirembwa and his group were said to have demanded money in cash and created a shelf company that took equity in the diamond mining firm under unclear legal circumstances before claiming that the Ghanaians had violated some unspecified Zimbabwean law and threatening them with arrest should they set foot in Zimbabwe.
“Masimirembwa was asked to reveal the crime that the Ghanaian had committed. He froze. Tell us, what crime did he commit? He remained frozen. Tell us? He was still frozen.
Ha-a come on, we can’t have that in our country. That naked corruption, no,” Mugabe said mainly in Shona.
He further stated that the wrath of the law must take its unobstructed course in the matter as such rot cannot be tolerated under his watch.
However, Masimirembwa denied the accusations levelled against him saying Mugabe was given wrong information by his advisors.
“I am innocent. I have respect for my president, but I believe that he was misinformed. I am totally innocent and will give my side of the story to the police,” he was quoted as saying in the local media.
Faceless sources close to Masimirembwa said the money received from the Ghanaian tycoon William Ato Essien was not a bribe but a “commitment fee” which eventually went into operations.
But Essien disputed the claim in an interview with a weekly paper last month.
“The issue of commitment fee is always known as commitment fee. This would mean that you can have access to the money and use it for the project but this was not the case, so it can never be a commitment fee,” he said.
“A commitment fee will always bear some sort of a receipt but this is not that … So it cannot be commitment fee because I did not get access to it to utilise for the project — that is why it cannot be referred to as commitment fees.”
As the accusations and counter accusations continue, what is interesting about this whole saga is the fact that it’s now a month since Mugabe demanded that the accused be answerable to their mischiefs.
The question that many are asking is why this hasn’t happened given that Mugabe sounded livid?
Police said although they launched investigations soon after the president’s outburst, they had not made any arrests due to the absence of the Ghanaian complainant.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police would like to advise that the case of corruption allegations against Godwills Masimirembwa is receiving our attention and preliminary investigations are going on,” ZRP national spokesperson, senior assistant commissioner Charity Charamba said in a statement.
“We expect the investigations to progress speedily once the relevant Ghanaian comes to give a statement of complaint as he is the witness in the matter. For now, he is out of the country and efforts are continuing to contact him to come and assist the police with these investigations as soon as possible.”
Essien was yet to take the long flight to Harare and why he is stalling, is the $6 million question that is begging for answers.
Perhaps, Masimirembwa’s alleged threats were right after all, as it recently emerged that Essien and his fellow Ghanaian investor Kingsley Ghansah could have used large sums of cash to illegally deal in gold in a desperate bid to raise money needed to fund the diamond project.
The Daily News alleged that besides illegally dealing in gold, the Ghanaians reportedly used millions of dollars operating a micro-finance company in Harare where they were dishing out vast sums of money to individuals and businessmen at exorbitant interest rates.
Ghansah was convicted in Zimbabwe last year in April of illegally dealing in gold and was jailed for five years. He was released on appeal at the High Court six months later under unclear circumstances.
The Daily News further claimed that “top” government officials were now divided over how to handle the Masimirembwa issue.
It alleged that those fighting in his camp argued that the Ghanaians spent most of their cash illegally trading in gold and were now covering their dirty deeds by claiming that the money was used to bribe Masimirembwa.
“The challenge with this issue is that the Ghanaians are not here to act as complainants because they themselves might be arrested for their illegal dealings here including gold.
“Kingsley for example, walked out of jail in circumstances which still need to be verified and Essien is not sure what will happen to him,” said the Daily News source.
“This case is complicated in that while the president has ordered action against Masimirembwa, it is not easy to pin him down because he will certainly not go alone.
“He has in the past said he is aware of who benefitted what from the Ghanaians and now it appears that the Ghanaians could have brought cash into the country but they used it for something else suspected to be gold dealing as evidenced by the conviction of Ghansah.”
The last official statement on the saga was published on October 10 by another daily and it was not something that showed progress.
“We are not yet done, we are still talking to people and I told them to give me a report, but they have not done so,” Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidhakwa was quoted as saying.
“I had said last week (early October), but they had not given me.”
With such statements and no formal complaint from the Ghanaian businessman to date, Zimbabweans who wanted to see authorities nipping corruption in the bud will have to continue waiting for God.