HARARE – At least two Innscor Africa Limited (Innscor) directors have been caught up in the Panama offshore bank accounts fiasco, which the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) says it had not authorised.
According to the Voice of America (VOA), Zinona Koudounaris — commonly known as Zed — and Michael Fowler opened four companies, and transferred money to the British Virgin Islands through lawyers and accountants early last year, although company executives maintain there was no wrongdoing on the duo’s part as their “conduct with those offshore firms was in accordance with the law”.
While the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) cache of documents alleges the sums paid were for accumulated salaries, Innscor insiders said there was “no record of payments . . . to Panama . . . and this was supported by the absence of detail or exact sums allegedly paid” to the south American tax haven.
As it is, bankers polled by businessdaily yesterday also said there was nothing illegal about opening offshore accounts and Zimbabwean residents could lawfully send money or their income anywhere in the world via normal banking channels until March this year.
Earlier, Innscor chairman Addington Chinake had told the Washington-based news agency that all of the company’s financial transfers constituted a “lawful movement of funds, including those (prescribed) of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.”
The Kanter and Immerman senior staffer also added that the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed firm had “at no point . . . transferred money . . . into any of the alleged entities”.
And as the market tries to digest the impact of the Panama leaks, it would seem Koudounaris and Fowler have always run their business through one of Zimbabwe’s big four, and locally-owned banks.
According to the Innscor papers, which form part of an 11 million-page dossier exposing a global network of secret offshore tax havens, the duo used Mossack Fonseca, and British accounting firm Northern Wychwood to register Federated Properties Holdings Limited, Skyfox, Acia Aero Limited and Acia Aero Holdings.
In January 2015, Northern Wychwood senior corporate and trust administrator Sophia Birchall wrote to Mossack Fonseca manager Helen Okell informing her that the funds to be transferred to the firms were the Innscor salaries of Koudounaris and Fowler.
“Koudounaris is a well-known and successful businessman and director of a large Zimbabwean-quoted group, Innscor Africa Limited, involved in retail and manufacturing industry, hotel and tourism in southern Africa,” Birchall wrote.
Asked if Koudounaris or Fowler registered such payments, Central bank governor John Mangudya told VOA via e-mail that: “According to our records we do not have any approval for the persons whom you have mentioned.”
Innscor is headquartered in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Fowler is a founding shareholder and Koudounaris has helped to drive the firm’s core fast-food chains, including Baker’s Inn, Chicken Inn and Pizza Inn, found across Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Kenya.
The company is also involved in meatpacking, light manufacturing, consumer electronics, and auto parts operations. It employs more than 14 000 Zimbabweans and continues to do steady business in a weakening economy, with 2015 revenues of more than $814 million. — With VOA