BUSINESSMAN Billy Rautenbach's intricate political connections with high-ranking government officials, including ministers have been exposed following his fall-out with a former associate, Temba Mliswa over million dollar platinum and ethanol deals.
This week, The Financial Gazette lifts the lid on how political doors were opened for Rautenbach after he hired fellow businessman and politician, Mliswa, as a consultant and, as the latter claims, when the millionaire was a persona non grata following his troubles in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Rautenbach ran into troubles in the DRC where he had mining deals. He also faced allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption among others in South Africa, leading to the raiding of his home and office in the neighbouring country. He entered a plea bargain with South African authorities, but during the time of those upheavals Rautenbach turned his eyes back home for possible investments.
Mliswa has now spoken for the first time on how he was engaged to link Rautenbach with high-ranking government ministers to facilitate his investments, but the latter is now said to be backtracking from his promises to hand some shares to the politician as previously agreed. In an exclusive interview, Mliswa said for rendering the services, he was paid US$10 000 per month, on top of other benefits such as an allocation for fuel.
Rautenbach, who shares a place on the European Union and United States sanctions list with ZANU-PF members, was accused by Western countries of bankrolling President Robert Mugabe's government before the formation of the inclusive government in 2009, an allegation that is yet to be confirmed. He has also been accused of providing the finances in exchange for lucrative but questionable mining and agricultural deals.
Rautenbach, now stands accused of double dealing and not honouring some of the deals reached with politicians. Mliswa painted a picture of Rautenbach as a businessman who was now failing to honour a "gentleman's agreement" that he would get 10 percent shareholding in the ethanol project at Chisumbanje and another 10 percent interest in a platinum deal.
Mliswa, who was ZANU-PF's Hurungwe District Coordinating Committee chairperson before the organ was disbanded recently, said he worked as a consultant for Rautenbach and took him from "minister to minister" and doors were opened for him in the process. He added that when it came to the Chisumbanje project, there was opposition to the deal, but it only went through because he was roped in as part of an indigenisation drive, but the millionaire was now backtracking on his word made even before some ministers.
Mliswa's lawyers recently wrote to Rautenbach enquiring about their client's promised shareholding and threatening to go to court, but the latter opted for an out of court settlement that has remained elusive. The former fitness trainer said he went with Rautenbach for the first time to Chisumbanje together with Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA) chairperson, Basil Nyabadza in the businessman's aircraft in which he was the pilot after having just acquired a flying license.
"Billy approached me to help him with several things, amongst them to get his farm back because it had been allocated to Gerald Mlotshwa (a Harare lawyer). He also wanted to start the mining of coke in Hwange. He wanted to be given a concession for a thermal power station which he was going to build in partnership with ZESA. He also wanted platinum concessions," said Mliswa.
For the Hwange deal, Mliswa received a percentage of the coking coal mined. There was also an understanding of the 10 percent shareholding apiece in the platinum and ethanol projects that were not honoured.
Regarding the ethanol project, Mliswa said he convinced former agriculture minister Rugare Gumbo to accept their proposals as the ZANU-PF senior member was initially reluctant to have them on board. Mliswa said he had worked for everything that Rautenbach was now withholding from him, including reversing the compulsory acquisition of the businessman's farm by the government.
"This (ethanol) thing won't take off before my spirit rests. My tears are dropping. I was warned before of the sort of person Billy is. One Indian once told me; 'never open the door for Billy, show him the door, only open when he has paid you," said Mliswa.
"Billy has a way to get to politicians. I watch with disgust how other people are taking this project as a project they pioneered at the expense of people like myself. They are so compromised that they cannot give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar." He added:
"I am not suffering. I am not desperate, but I am saying this because I must warn other people so that they do not fall in the same trap."
Contacted for comment, Nyabadza said he was not aware of the relationship between Mliswa and Rautenbach or any share agreements, but recalls that they undertook the visit to the estates together.
"Yes I travelled with Mliswa and Rautenbach. They jointly made a request for me to visit. I had not met Mr. Rautenbach before and I did not know the extent of their relationship," said Nyabadza.
Gumbo said he could not recollect all the details from the time when he was the minister of agriculture
"I don't remember now," he said.
Rautenbach did not immediately respond to questions sent to him.