16 January 2007

Zimbabwe: RBZ Board to Sue Papers Over Gono Vehicle Claims

Harare — THE Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe board of directors has resolved to take legal action against The Standard, its reporter and The Zimbabwean newspaper for publishing allegations that central bank governor Dr Gideon Gono had imported a top-class Mercedes-Benz worth US$365 000.

Chairman of the board's human resources committee Mr Lovemore Chihota yesterday said allegations that Dr Gono had imported a Mercedes-Benz Brabus E V12 bi-turbo were "wholly and totally untrue" and entirely a creation of the newspaper and the journalist who wrote the story.

The board, which authorises all expenditure by the bank, added that it would leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the integrity of the central bank was preserved.

"Given the anxiety this falsehood must have caused to the governor, our principals in Government, the corporate sector, labour, civic society and all other stakeholders here at home, within the region and internationally, the board has decided that the bank should take legal action on The Standard and The Zimbabwean newspaper, as corporate entities, and against Mr Caiphas Chimhete in his individual capacity as the instigator of the damaging falsehood," said Mr Chihota.

On January 7, The Standard newspaper carried a story on its front page alleging that the imported car had caused a stir at the central bank, infuriating many workers who were denied annual bonuses on the grounds that the bank could not afford it.

"The board of directors wishes to place on record that since December 2003, the governor was using his personal vehicles, in particular, his old Mercedes-Benzes, S500 and S320, both of which were brought with him from his previous employers.

"Consistent with his contract of employment, in September 2005, the board approved the purchase of a vehicle, an S500, Mercedes-Benz, at a price of US$138 000, for use by the governor."

Mr Chihota added that instead of the bank paying for the said vehicle for Dr Gono, he requested that the purchase price as approved by the board be a loan to enable him to top up and purchase a vehicle of his own choice.

"This vehicle was delivered by Zimoco nine months later in May 2006.

"This car Dr Gono later upgraded to an S600 through a swap and top-up arrangement in local currency at a local garage, which is the car he is driving to date," said Mr Chihota.

"The board also wishes to take this opportunity to assure all stakeholders that, as always, the Reserve Bank will continue to jealously guard the use of the scarce foreign exchange resources of the country and allocate the same to national pressing priority areas."

Although Dr Gono himself could not be reached for comment yesterday, he was quoted in The Sunday Mail as saying it was news to him that he owned such a flashy car, said to be the fastest in the world with a top speed of 350km per hour.

Dr Gono said he would be seeking the assistance of Zimra, State security, local agents of Mercedes-Benz and the manufacturers of the said car to establish the physical existence, importation, entry into the country as well as the payment for the controversial car.

The sole distributors for Mercedes-Benz in Zimbabwe, Zimoco, have also scotched rumours about the existence of such a car in the country saying they have to date not imported a Brabus vehicle on behalf of any Zimbabwean customer.

The general sales manager at Zimoco, a Mrs D. Ritson, said Brabus is an after market conversion and customerisation of a Mercedes- Benz which is sold mainly to European and Middle Eastern customers.

"Zimoco has not received any serious enquiries about Brabus vehicles.

"DaimlerChrysler, through their distributors in Africa, do not encourage sales of any Brabus products due to the fact that they have highly tuned engines and extensive modifications to suspensions, brakes and tyres which are not considered suitable for African conditions," said Mrs Ritson.

The allegations against the governor are the latest in a string of concerted attempts to discredit him since he took over the hot seat at the central bank in December 2003.

As the architect of the country's economic turnaround efforts, and having taken a bold stance against corruption, the latest allegations are designed to paint the governor as corrupt.

Late last year the privately owned media was awash with reports that Dr Gono had sanctioned the importation of inferior fertilizer from South Africa.

But subsequent investigations revealed that the governor had nothing to do with the purchase of the sub-standard product. He, in turn, fingered senior Government officials in the bungle.

The private media has also gone out of its way to insinuate that all was not well between Dr Gono and Minister of Finance Dr Herbert Murerwa. Both have denied the allegations dismissing them as "wishful thinking".

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