Eyebrows, suspicions raised over ‘dodgy’ diaspora partners in NRZ deal

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Harare – Eyebrows and suspicions have been raised over a deal brokered between the Zimbabwean government, a Zim-SA partner and a South African firm, amid allegations of dishonesty, poor security checks and Grace Mugabe’s involvement in the deal.

The deal, propounded by a firm called Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (“DIDG”) led by Zimbabwean born but South African citizen Donovan Chimhandamba, was first agreed during the presidency of Robert Mugabe.

Khuluma Afrika is in possession of a document written on the 2nd of October 2017 directed to former President Robert Mugabe in which DIDG introduced themselves.

In the letter the company claimed that it aimed to raise $1 billion USD by getting 1 million Zimbabweans to invest $1,000 each.

The document further explains how DIDG met with members of cabinet in April 2017, and eventually submitted a joint tender bid with South Africa’s Transnet as a technical partner.

The document further states that DIDG had secured funding from at least 4 banks, including Standard Bank, Nedbank, Rand Merchant Bank.

Questions have however been raised around the claims made in the document. A credit report provided to Khuluma Afrika seems to indicate that the chairman of the firm, and some of his directors are sunk in debt, raising suspicions that the claims may have been false as banks are reluctant to fund insolvents.

Khuluma Afrika sent questions anonymously to the three big banks in South Africa. Standard Bank denied they were funding any kind of foreign investments, while RMB and Nedbank declined to comment.

Sources within the banks however indicated that such an arrangement would be difficult if not impossible.

An investigation by Khuluma Afrika in December this year seemed to indicate that ‘elbows may have been greased’ and that Grace Mugabe was at the center of the deal.

Sources close to the tender process and those in cabinet highlighted how the deal with DIDG and Transnet was initially rejected by cabinet, but presented a week later and then accepted.

“What happened was that cabinet rejected it. After that consultations were made with Minister Gumbo, and Grace Mugabe instructed people that the deal must go on. The next week, it was pitched again and accepted. Even the President asked about who had been paid”, a source who was a member of cabinet told Khuluma Afrika.

Another firm, which participated in the tender told Khuluma Afrika that they were telephoned by people from the Ministry of Transport and told they had won the tender but needed to pay $50 million to Grace Mugabe for the deal to go through.

Khuluma Afrika was shown telephone records indicating calls had been made over a period of 48 hours from numbers belonging to the Ministry of Transport.

After the November military intervention which led to the deposing of Robert Mugabe the deal was continued, since the Minister of Transport had not changed.

Questions were sent to Minister Gumbo through a proxy, but he denied any kind of irregularities or corruption.

Several suspicions have also been raised about the capacity of Transnet to meet its end of the deal. In South Africa, the firm was embroiled in irregular contracts at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) that could amount to R24bn. Members of Parliament (SA) have claimed that the contracts flouted procurement policies.

In January 2017, News 24 broke news that Transnet had bought Chinese locomotives which it could not use because of problems with the trains alternators. Other locomotives procured by PRASA were simply too tall and were not fit for the South African rail system.

The deals reportedly benefited the Gupta family in South Africa, which has been fingered in massive state capture and corruption allegations.

Other documents shown to Khuluma Afrika seemed to indicate that there were several misrepresentations in the pitch made to the Zimbabwean government by DIDG.

Company documents seem to indicate that DIDG operated trading under a different name and was only registered after or just before the first meeting with government officials, indicating that the government at the time may have entered negotiations with a non-existing entity.

Judging by the documents, it appears the tender was eventually awarded to a company which had not track record, and whose chairman is under the weight of a heavy debt.

Efforts to get a comment from members of the DIDG were fruitless as the chairman’s number went to voicemail.

This investigation remains ongoing and will be published as a series of articles