Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Zimbabwe elite seeks to evade sanctions

By Grant Ferrett
BBC News

Joyce Mujuru, pictured in 2005
Joyce Mujuru is one of Zimbabwe's rich elite banned from Europe

One of the richest and most powerful people in Zimbabwe has been trying to sell gold in Europe in a deal stretching from Nairobi to Zurich - the BBC has learned - in defiance of international sanctions.

The vice-president of Zimbabwe, Joyce Mujuru, with her husband Solomon, are among a small elite who have prospered in Zimbabwe as the rest of the country plunges into ever-deeper economic chaos.

As most of the country suffers - UN estimates suggest up to 75% of Zimbabweans need food aid, while unemployment is put at more than 90% - they and their ilk have become very wealthy.

Despite EU sanctions against Zimbabwe being in place since 2002, and extended this year, Mrs Mujuru has allegedly been trying to fund a multi-million gold deal in Europe, the BBC has uncovered.

She was involved in a planned deal to sell almost four tonnes of Congolese gold to a company called Firstar.

Mrs Mujuru is one of more than 200 senior officials linked to President Robert Mugabe who remains subject to a travel ban and an asset freeze in the European Union in spite of the creation of a power-sharing government with the opposition earlier this month.

They are accused of undermining democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The person behind the deal and the person that organised the funding for the deal was her mother
Felix Eimer

The proposed gold deal focused on Mrs Mujuru's daughter, Nyasha del Campo, a commodities trader based in Spain.

Firstar says that although the offer, made in November 2008, to sell 3.7 tonnes of gold came from Nyasha Del Campo, it was the Zimbabwean vice-president who was central to the deal.

Felix Eimer, who works for Firstar and is based in Frankfurt, told the BBC: "She promised us that in order to complete this transaction, her mum would pay the total amount necessary to transport gold from Nairobi to Zurich.

"This is equivalent to 150,000 to 200,000 euros (130,000-175,000). The person behind the deal and the person that organised the funding for the deal was her mother."

The BBC has seen copies of e-mails indicating that Mrs Mujuru was also paying the legal costs.

Firstar says it pulled out when it realised who Mrs Mujuru was. It also placed the mother and daughter on its own black list, deciding it did not want to do business with them.

The certificate of origin of the gold states that it comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Zimbabwean vice-president has been unavailable for comment. Her daughter in Madrid says she is consulting her lawyers.

'Father Christmas'

While the sanctions were not breached in this instance, it does suggest that those at the top of Zanu-PF are trying to use others, including relatives, to get around them.

Mrs Mujuru's husband Solomon was head of the army after independence in 1980 and is believed to retain some influence within the military.

Zimbabwe reserve bank governor Gideon Gono
Gideon Gono has presided over the reserve bank during hyper-inflation
The couple have extensive business interests in Zimbabwe and beyond.

"Within the DRC there are huge mining exploits which are being made by Solomon Mujuru and Joyce Mujuru," says John Makumbe, associate professor of politics at the University of Zimbabwe.

For a select few, the economic decline in Zimbabwe has helped them to become very wealthy.

"If you were to visit some of our upmarket residential areas you would think you'd landed in Beverly Hills.

"There are some magnificent properties," says John Robertson, an economic analyst in Harare.

Privileged access to hard currency from Zimbabwe's central bank at unusually favourable rates is the key to much of this conspicuous consumption.

"Gideon Gono, the reserve bank governor, is Father Christmas," says Mr Makumbe.

"The revenue that comes into the Zimbabwe government is kept at the central bank, and he dishes it out willy-nilly to individuals within the party, to Mugabe and his family without any accountability whatsoever."

Mr Gono is referred to as 'Mr Inflation'.

They have been pinching a nerve, they have contributed very significantly to [President Mugabe] feeling he had to do a deal with Morgan Tsvangirai.
Lord Malloch-Brown
UK Foreign Office Minister

He has presided over a policy of printing ever more worthless Zimbabwe dollars in order to keep pace with rising prices.

The new finance minister, Tendai Biti of the long-time opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has described the central bank as "totally discredited" and "at the core of economic decay."

Sanctions, first imposed by the EU, the United States and others in 2002, have been condemned by President Mugabe and his supporters as being at the root of the country's problems.

There are now 203 individuals and 40 companies banned from travelling to the EU's 27 member states and doing business there.

"The problem we have had is a problem created by a former colonial power wanting to continue to interfere in our domestic affairs," said Mr Mugabe last September, when signing the power-sharing accord with the MDC.

But critics of the sanctions say they have been too narrow and poorly enforced.

Millions of Zimbabweans are reliant on aid for survival
Millions of Zimbabweans are reliant on aid for survival

"These sanctions are just not worth the paper they're written on," according to Norman Lamb, an opposition Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament in Britain.

"We [in Britain] stand charged of complicity and of failing to take any effective action to bring to an end a despicable regime which has caused such horror for its population."

The Foreign Office minister, Mark Malloch-Brown, rejects the criticism, saying they contributed to forging a hard-fought power-sharing deal.

He says of the sanctions: "They have been pinching a nerve, I think they have contributed very significantly to him [President Mugabe] feeling he had to do a deal with [MDC leader] Morgan Tsvangirai."

Despite calls from several African countries for the measures to be removed, he says they will remain in place until Mr Mugabe and those around him show they are truly committed to implementing the deal with the opposition.

Grant Ferrett investigates the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the UK and the European Union on File on 4 on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 24 February at 2000 GMT.

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