Police gunsights on cash smugglers

15 May, 2016 - 00:05 0 Views
Police gunsights on cash smugglers

The Sunday Mail

Chief Reporter

Prominent figures in various fields, including industry and commerce, have been identified as cash externalisation kingpins and could be arrested in coming days.

Police have also activated a crack team in the Criminal Investigations Department to monitor dodgy bank accounts and trail culprits taking cash out of Zimbabwe physically.

It is understood that a significant chunk of the smuggled cash goes to a South African bank in Botswana, and senior law enforcement agents yesterday confirmed they were close to cracking the case, with several individuals lined up for arrest.

The agents said detectives were also tracking external wire transfers.

Such activities, it is alleged, began years ago but became more pronounced on account of cash shortages of recent weeks as the bigwigs sought to move hard currency out of the local financial system.

It is estimated Zimbabwe lost at least US$1,8 billion in 2015 through illicit financial flows.

A senior cop said: “We are in the process of rounding up our investigations, and very soon, some people will be exposed for being part of the cash looting. To our surprise, even prominent people, including top company executives, are doing it.

“We are going to make follow-ups and monitor suspicious accounts that we have identified. The country needs us to get to the bottom of the matter and this is what we are working on.”

Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi said they were working to arrest capital flight.

“As you have already seen, some suspects have been arrested. This shows that the police are doing a lot in terms of issues to do with externalisation and illegal flight of cash from the country.

“There is a unit under the Criminal Investigations Department which has been mandated to carry out investigations on all such cases. As long as there is credible evidence, anyone who is caught on the wrong side of the law in terms of illegal cash dealings will be apprehended and the law will take its course.

“It does not matter who the culprit is. In addition, we are also working on the Panama Papers; there is a team that is perusing the documents to see if crimes were committed.”

He added that the hunt for First Oil petroleum company directors Alex Nyahuni and Lyton Katunga was on, and The Sunday Mail has it that the two fled to South Africa to escape money-laundering charges.

The pair allegedly hit CMED for US$2,7 million and are said to be trying to get a key State witness in South Africa to change testimony implicating them in the alleged fraud.

Chief Supt Nyathi said, “Alex Kudakwashe Nyahuni and Lynon Gilbert Katunga are wanted persons in a suspected case of money-laundering, which is contravening Section 8 (2) of the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act Chapter 9:24.

“They approached an ICT expert in South Africa and asked the individual to produce false documents, purporting to be evidence of cash transactions that were made for the US$2,7 which was missing at the Central Mechanical Equipment Depot.

“Figures stated in the false documents ranged between R500 000 and R5 million. The matter came to light when one of the owners of the company that they had claimed to have paid raised a complaint that he had not received the money. The CID Serious Fraud Squad is handling the case and are hunting these two suspects.”

A lawyer who preferred anonymity said authorities should immediately amend Exchange Control Regulations and impose stiffer penalties on cash looters.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe liberalised exchange controls following introduction of the multi-currency system in 2009.

The lawyer said: “Externalisation is a crime because the authorisation of the RBZ to make certain transactions to offshore accounts. If such a crime is committed, the penalty should be a fine, which is double the amount which would have been externalised or a jail term if one fails to pay such a fine.

“This is pure criminality and that’s why we had some people fleeing the country in the past because they had committed similar offences.”

Mazowe South legislator and lawyer Mr Fortune Chasi added: “People are suffering because of such crimes so there is need for amendment of the exchange control regulations so that there are stiffer penalties for people who wantonly take cash out of the country.”

Zimbabwe’s cash shortage began in April with the situation attributed to externalisation and a strong affinity for the greenback regionally.

The RBZ will soon introduce bond notes underpinned by a US$200 million Africa Export-Import Bank facility to redress the problem by incentivising exports.

It also plans to activate other currencies in the multi-currency basket.

Last week, former National Social Security Authority acting general manager Hashmon Matemera appeared in court for allegedly externalising over US$340 million during his tenure as boss of BancABC when he authorised payments to Botswana by Jinan diamond mining company.

Matemera has been relieved of his duties at NSSA.

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