HARARE – Standard Chartered Bank has frozen several bank accounts that have received large deposits, and also advised its clients that with immediate effect, ID verification will be carried out at all its automated teller machines (ATMs) countrywide.
It was the first time accounts have been frozen in connection with changes in transaction patterns, and the measures has left the London-listed bank facing its biggest opprobrium from its clients, who have described the unilateral decrees as “draconian”.
Standard Chartered corporate affairs manager Lillian Hapanyengi said yesterday she was out of office returning on June 11, and referred all inquiries to Zivai Ziweya and Gift Murashiki, who could not be reached.
The British multinational banking and financial services company headquartered in London, said in emails to its Zimbabwe clients it was investigating unusually large deposits on suspicion of money laundering.
“We note that your transaction pattern has recently changed and in terms of the money laundering guidelines, we are required to ascertain the source of funds flowing into your account,” said an email to a StanChart client which declined to be named.
“Kindly therefore contact your branch manager to discuss this issue at your earliest convenience. In the meantime, cash withdrawals from your account have been restricted until you discuss the change in your transaction pattern with your branch manager. In order to minimise inconvenience to you during this period, you can still access your funds through RTGS and Point of Sale (POS).”
The accounts freeze sparked protests at StanChart branches in the latest flare up of anger against the government’s handling of the economic crisis that has spawned an unprecedented cash crisis.
Many depositors who jammed the large UK bank’s Harare branches were concerned they would lose money they had saved.
Standard Chartered boasts one of the world’s largest banking networks, stretching across much of Asia and Africa, and its shares rose 13 percent to 589,8 percent — a new high for 2016 — after it reported a return to profit in the first quarter, which is typically the strongest period of the year for banks.
The new requirement to carry out ID verification at ATMs was also facing a serious backlash from angry depositors, who argued that it was an added inconvenience to indisposed clients.
StanChart, which boasts that its visa debit card provides “great convenience around the world”, said in an sms sent to its clients this week: “Kindly note that with immediate effect, ID verification will be carried out at all out ATMs countrywide to ensure that only card owners transact.”
There was no further explanation.
This comes as the Central Bank has blamed a shortage of cash notes in the country on money laundering, gold smuggling and a decision by the government to spread salary payments to civil servants over the month.
The central bank’s director for exchange control, told the 77th annual general meeting of the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe in Victoria Falls last month that international criminal syndicates were capitalising on the country’s lax policing of its financial systems.
It is not immediately clear if the measures being instituted by StanChart were part of the crackdown on vice by the RBZ, which has tightened the screws on withdrawals, with individuals now permitted to withdraw only a maximum of $500 per day at the large UK bank, although the RBZ has decreed that the daily withdrawal be $1 000.
Mpofu defended the withdrawal limits, arguing “we have been too generous; very few Zimbabweans earn $30 000 per month”.
“The challenges that we faced when we liberalised the economy, is that we opened up and became a safe haven for international criminals. Zimbabweans also became ill-disciplined as well. Zimbabwe has become a fishing pond of hard currency.
“We have been using our foreign exchange irresponsibly over the past five years and that has also affected the situation we are in,” Mpofu said.
Many Zimbabweans blame their country’s economic woes on corruption among the political class and throughout its institutions.
The RBZ has also said it was probing 280 executives whether they have ties to a massive document leak from Panama that showed how offshore companies are used to stash clients’ wealth.