HARARE – Former first lady Grace Mugabe has a couple of questions to answer to the authorities over how she amassed assets in foreign lands as the net closes in on individuals and corporates who stashed their wealth in foreign lands.
On Tuesday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa gave a three-month deadline to individuals and corporates that externalised foreign currency to return the loot or face arrest.
In a statement, Mnangagwa said it had been brought to his attention that huge sums of money and other assets were externalised, thus prejudicing the hard currency-starved economy of the much-needed liquidity.
Highly-placed sources told the Daily News yesterday that the net will spare no one — big and small, as the new government puts its foot down to restore financial discipline that had become an anathema under former president Robert Mugabe’s spendthrift administration.
It is being alleged that the powers-that-be already have the list of people involved in the externalisation of foreign currency and want to give them the leeway to return the loot in the spirit of letting bygones be bygones before the law takes its course.
Without suggesting any wrongdoing on her part, they said it would be interesting for the authorities to see if the former first lady could account for some of the assets acquired by the first family in foreign lands.
Grace projects herself as a shrewd businesswoman whose interests span across farming, education, property and dairy production.
Notwithstanding the economic meltdown that has led to local businesses haemorrhaging to the point of closure and massive, Grace is said to have made considerable acquisitions beyond Zimbabwe’s borders.
What is not clear is whether she had the requisite approvals for the foreign purchases and if there was no undue influence on the part of the bureaucrats that presided over the approvals.
The then powerful Grace recently spent a cool R45 million rand on a 9 249 square metre property in Sandhurst — a leafy suburb where the affluent in South Africa live large.
She also reportedly brought a Rolls Royce Ghost model worth half a million dollars around the same time in September, again in South Africa.
Known for wearing diamond studded spectacles, gold crusted watches and a ring that was bought for over a million dollars, Grace is also said to own properties in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
While details about the Mugabes’ wealth are sketchy, Grace has led a life of opulence, and shopping, an ingrained habit that earned the former first lady the moniker “Gucci Grace”.
Mugabe’s sons have openly paraded their wealth through purchases of Rolls Royce vehicles, expensive watches and choice champagnes.
Some estimates put the Mugabes’ net worth at $1 billion dollars and according to WikiLeaks, the former president’s assets “include everything from secret accounts in Switzerland, the Channel Islands and the Bahamas to castles in Scotland”.
A snapshot of the Mugabes’ wealth came to the fore in 2015 over an ownership dispute of a $7,6 million Hong Kong home with an Asian tycoon.
Legal experts said with Mnangagwa having thrown the gauntlet by giving citizens who externalised foreign currency and brought assets in foreign land three months to return the loot, the deal that Mugabe signed with the generals granting him immunity may not insulate him or his families from accounting for their wealth outside the country’s borders.
Constitutional law expert and one of the authors of the current Constitution Alex Magaisa said as things stand, the Mugabes are exposed to legal action.
“It is presumably on this basis that the exit deal includes provision for immunity from lawsuits. The question is whether the exit deal takes precedence over the Constitution. It is axiomatic that the Constitution is the supreme law of the country. Section 2(1) of the Constitution states that: ‘This Constitution is the supreme law of Zimbabwe and any law, practice, custom or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid to the extent of the inconsistency,’” he said.
“This means if, as it appears, the deal is inconsistent with the Constitution, it is invalid. If sued, the courts should give precedence to the Constitution and he would have to prove that his acts were done in good faith. As for members of his family, the immunity would not hold. They never had immunity during his presidency and they cannot claim immunity now,” added Magaisa.
Roman Catholic cleric — Father Fidelis Mukonori — who played a key role in persuading 93-year-old Mugabe to step down after pressure from the military and the populace, told the Daily News that “Grace’s immunity” was not part of the deal.
“We did not discuss her immunity with the generals,” said Father Mukonori.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti, who clashed several times with Zanu PF officials during the inclusive government era, told the Daily News that over $3 billion left the country between 2009 and 2013 when he was still in charge.
“There are people who took out money; there are lot of things that happened. At least $3 billion left this country when I was the minister of Finance between 2009 and 2011 due to illicit financial inflows,” said Biti, without mentioning individuals or companies involved.
The MDC this week said the net should not just target small fish.
Obert Gutu, the MDC’s spokesperson and a former deputy Justice minister, claimed this week that it was a public secret that top politicians and other well-connected individuals illegally externalised huge amounts of money over the years.
“Some of these criminals have actually gone ahead to buy and/or construct expensive mansions in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Dubai and Hong Kong, using the proceeds from these externalised funds,” said Gutu.
“Billions of United States dollars, particularly arising from the illicit sale of diamonds from the Marange and Chiadzwa diamond fields, were illegally externalised by these criminals. All this money should be brought back to Zimbabwe sooner rather than later,” said.