Seized funds retrievable: US embassy

Kuda Bwititi and Itai Mazire
The United States Embassy in Zimbabwe says local companies and individuals whose funds were seized by the American Office for Foreign Assets Control will be able to retrieve their money once they meet prescribed application procedures.

The US sancitoned 69 Zimbabwean companies and 106 individuals via its Specially Designated Nationals system, citing unproven claims of “undermining democratic processes”.

The exact amount Ofac has grabbed since it first designated Zimbabwean people and entities in 2003 is unknown but is believed to run into tens of millions of US dollars.

The Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, Bindura Nickel Mine, the Industrial Development Corporation, Samrec Vermiculite Mines and BancABC are among prominent institutions on the list.

Responding to inquiries from The Sunday Mail, US Embassy deputy public affairs officer Ms Jillian Bonnardeaux said affected parties could apply for the release of seized funds, saying several entities around the world
had recovered their money this way.

“Funds are blocked and may be released back to the sender upon request to Ofac. Ofac has instructions for individuals or entities that seek to have blocked funds released and considers requests in compliance with existing laws.

“Financial institutions in the United States, which have a legal obligation to comply with Ofac regulations, may block or freeze transactions they believe violate Ofac regulations. Title to the blocked property remains with the sender; title never transfers to Ofac,” she said.

A US-based attorney with expertise on Ofac matters, Mr Erich Ferrari, said release of blocked funds takes between three months and two years.

He, however, said companies and individuals that intend to recover their funds need to first seek a review of the sanctions.

Representatives of some of the affected companies said Ofac continues to snatch their funds in spite of the invitation to apply.

Marange Resources acting chief executive officer Mr Mark Mabhudhu said they were suffering the double effect of losing both money and potential investors because of the US government’s actions.

“In principle, Ofac made the business of mining and selling diamonds very unprofitable as it worked to suppress the product price as well as exacerbate the cost of running the business.

“What also made the situation worse was the fact that our product buyers had to conceal their real business names or identities for fear of reprisal from Ofac.

“Subsequently, any interested buyer would make it appear like they would be doing a favour for Zimbabwe if they were buying the product.

“In this, they would bargain for far less the price for which they would purchase our product.
“As a result, the organisation would accept discounted product prices which meant that only marginal profit would be attained (if at all there was any).”

MMCZ acting general manager Mr Richard Chingodza said the embargo affected access to global markets.
Economists say sanctions have cost the country an estimated US$42 billion in potential revenue over the past decade.

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