Six picked up for laundering $5bn…as govt clampdown on forex parallel market escalates

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Blessing Masakadza          

SENIOR STAFF WRITER

masakadzab@dailynews.co.zw

SIX people have appeared in court over charges of money laundering and illegal foreign currency activities involving a staggering $5 billion, the Daily News reports.

The six — a Harare resident and five others from Mutare — first appeared in court in the capital at around 9pm on Monday for their initial remand, before they were brought back yesterday.

This comes as the six were already facing another charge of money laundering involving a whopping  $145 million — a matter in which they were denied bail last week.

Their arraignment before the court yesterday came a few weeks after President Emmerson Mnangagwa warned that his government would punish those who are destabilising the country’s economy through currency manipulation.

It also comes about six months after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) restricted the operations of mobile money platforms — banning the activities of agents.

Appearing before Harare regional magistrate Bianca Makwande yesterday, Simbarashe Charamba and Felix Tafadzwa Chikuse, as well as their companies Family First Choice Supermarket and Bailey Charamba Investments, were jointly charged with Vimbai Charamba, Rudo Charamba, Shumirai Charamba and Georgina Kabanda on allegations of illegally dealing in currency and money laundering.

Chikuse is from Mabvuku in Harare.

The six were not asked to plead to the allegations.

Through their lawyer Brighton Pabwe, the six said they had engaged advocate Tawanda Zhuwarara to challenge their placement on remand.

“We will be challenging placement on remand. We have engaged an advocate and the application will be done in writing.

“There are issues that need to be raised which are important and technical,” Pabwe submitted.

They will file their written submission by end of day today, and the State will respond by Monday. The matter will then proceed on November 25.

The delay in dealing with the matter did not go down well with Chikuse who broke down in tears as it dawned on him that he would have to spend another week in custody.

Prosecutor Michael Reza alleged that between January 1 and June 30 this year, Simbarashe Charamba — acting in connivance with his co-accused — manipulated a mobile money platform by registering a bulk payer agent line and a number of agent lines which he used to facilitate the purchase of foreign currency from the public.

Employees at Family First Choice Supermarket allegedly conducted forex transactions from the supermarket offices on the specific direction of Charamba — buying foreign currency from the parallel market.

In pursuing their alleged arrangement, the State alleges that they transacted a total of $4 979 643 231.81 through the bulk agent line and redistributed this to 40 different Bailey Charamba Investments agent lines in order to disguise the illicit origins of the money.

Chikuse and Kabanda, as the directors of Bailey Charamba Investments, allegedly received commission from Charamba monthly as the registered owners of the 40 agent lines used in facilitating the transactions.

The State alleges that their actions were in violation of the Exchange Control Act as read with the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act.

Last week, the six appeared in court facing another charge of money laundering involving $145 million and were denied bail.

In that case, the State argued that the group was behind the fluctuation of the exchange rate in the country using mobile money to buy hard currency on the parallel market.

All this comes as the RBZ in August announced a permanent ban of mobile money agents in the country, as part of its new monetary policy measures.

This followed the suspension of mobile money agents from processing mobile financial transactions in June.

According to the RBZ monetary policy statement, “following the suspension and freezing of agent and bulk-payer wallets on 27 June 2020, mobile money operators have allowed illegal foreign currency dealers to use multiple individual wallets as a means to bypass the transaction limits and continue with their illicit transactions. Mobile money operators shall, with immediate effect, close all multiple wallets, and allow just one wallet per individual”.

Authorities have attributed part of the current Zim dollar and economic stability to the drastic measures taken by the RBZ in June.

This has seen the prices of basic goods and services stabilising in shops, after a bout of steep increases fuelled by the collapse of the local currency then against the US dollar.

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