Zimbabwe: Chombo Probe - Police Net Widens

Harare — INVESTIGATIONS into how Local Government and Public Works Minister Ignatius Chombo obtained a US$77 000 loan from the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) to purchase a Toyota Land Cruiser Sahara for his personal use appeared to be still in full swing this week after the investigating officer who had unexpectedly been bundled off the probe got a last-minute reprieve to stay on the case.

Sources close to the developments told this paper this week that Superintendent Philip Ncube of the CID Serious Fraud Department, who was last week abruptly slapped with a transfer to Mutare, has now been instructed to continue investigations into the Chombo case.

This comes a week after he was told he would be posted to Mutare to head the CID fraud squad in Manicaland. His transfer with immediate effect would have derailed the probe.

Sources said police are still keen to ascertain from ZUPCO board members if the loan was advanced to the minister with their consent.

The police hope to establish a basis for charging Chombo, whose back seems to be against the wall following the publication by The Financial Gazette last week of a transcript of a taped conversation in which he is heard asking for a bribe.

Fresh details about the controversial motor vehicle purchase by Chombo emerged this week, with Ajit Patel, a local car dealer who sourced and supplied the luxury SUV, trying to explain a US$22 000 discrepancy between the actual price of the vehicle and the price that was actually paid for it.

According to Patel, five extra tyres, a backholder, TV navigator, a fridge which is yet to be installed in the car and Biozenon lights for use at night had raised the price from the initial US$55 000 to US$77 000.

Police are said not to be convinced with regard to the costing of the accessories, with a price survey conducted yesterday showing that a navigation system for example, would cost no more than US$1 300.

Interestingly, at about the same time ZUPCO and the Local Government Ministry were making frantic efforts to secure the vehicle for Chombo, the minister was in the process of acquiring two other vehicles -- Toyota Hilux Vigos -- from Patel.

One of the two cars is registered in the name of Pokelo Nari under registration number AAL-2207 but now personalised to Revai. The other car is registered to Runsgate Investments, a company owned by Chombo's brother Nimrod Chiminya, who is also a ZUPCO board member.

Police are reportedly keen to know how Chombo paid for the two Toyota Hilux Vigos, worth a total of US$49 000. Each car cost US$24 500.

Investigations by The Financial Gazette revealed that Chombo has been making payments for the two cars from various sources. A cheque from Multi-Muk Investments number 000558 on December 19 2005 amounting to $1.5 million was deposited into the car dealer's account. Two days after the first payment, $3 million was transferred from a Zimbank Chinhoyi Street branch account. Once again, it is not clear who the account holder is. Jewel Bank Borrowdale branch followed up with another payment of $4 million on the same day through a transfer. Chombo wrote cheque number 000033 for $500 000 on December 26 2005. The last payment came from Premier Banking Corporation through a transfer, bringing the total to $11 million.

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