PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is reportedly fuming after former South African president Thabo Mbeki told him and provided evidence senior Zanu PF ministers had demanded a US$10 million bribe to facilitate a US$1 billion investment by African National Congress (ANC)-linked investors.
Informed sources said this week Mbeki, whose wife Zanele is involved in business, told Mugabe during Zimbabwe's Diamond Conference in Victoria Falls from November 12-13 he was shocked by ministers who tried to extort US$10 million from ANC-connected businesspeople who wanted to pour a US$1 billion investment in diamond mining and other areas.
Before Mugabe hinted on the issue at the Zanu PF conference in Gweru last weekend, the Zimbabwe Independent was already investigating the story after picking up leads during the recent Victoria Falls meeting.
Sources say Mbeki named the ministers, some of whom have built vast business empires from nowhere, to Mugabe and promised to give him evidence of extortion. It is said Mbeki last week sent an envoy, who was part of his facilitation team during Zimbabwe's Global Political Agreement negotiations, to give Mugabe the evidence.
Efforts to get comment from Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba failed, while Mbeki's spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga refused to speak on the issue now under investigation.
Among the proof is information clearly showing the names of the ministers, who they met, when and where and how they demanded bribes, effectively scuttling huge investment to Mbeki's annoyance. Mugabe was said to have been angered by the information, especially insinuations that he was going to get a cut from the US$10 kickback.
After getting the evidence from Mbeki of which ministers were demanding bribes, Mugabe, irked and disappointed by his appointees, menacingly hinted on the issue at the Zanu PF conference.
"I was getting complaints from outside. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki was saying some of their people in the ANC wanted to come intending to do business and this is what they have been told: 'If you want to do this business, you bring US$5 million and from that US$5 million we take US$1 million that we will take to the minister to give to the president'," Mugabe said.
"If I get information stating that so and so minister is doing this, he goes. Unfortunately, sometimes complainants do not want to identify the ministers, fearing persecution but that is happening in the ministries."
The now defunct Canadile Miners director, Lovemore Kurotwi was arrested in 2010 for allegedly 'fraudulently misrepresenting' to government that his company had money to mine diamonds, when in fact it was bankrupt. Officials claim this effectively 'prejudiced' the government of US$2 billion investment.
However, Kurotwi has insisted the fraud charges are linked to his telling Mugabe that Mines minister Obert Mpofu had demanded a US$10 million bribe to licence his company.
Sources say the bribe from ANC-linked investors was demanded as "commission" and "facilitation fees" for the removal of obstacles to do with the indigenisation programme to ensure the businesspeople did not encounter any problems.
An internal government investigation has reportedly been launched on the issue which could open a Pandora's Box on high-level corruption, bribery and extortion.
Zanu PF ministers, who live in huge mansions and own luxury vehicles, are some of Zimbabwe's well-off people despite that their sources of income are not clear.
Several Zimbabwean ministers have allegedly enriched themselves by demanding bribes and kickbacks from investors using Mugabe's name. Some bribes have been demanded from those wishing to invest in the telecommunications, road construction and energy sectors.
Although some of the ministers have caught with their hands on the till, Mugabe has failed to act and kept them in his government. For instance, Mugabe has been told by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo's source of wealth should be investigated but nothing has been done.
Apart from dealing with Zanu PF ministers such as Enos Nkala, Maurice Nyagumbo and Frederick Shava involved in corruption in the 1980s and later Chris Kuruneri, Mugabe has largely ignored or neglected dealing with corrupt officials.
Ministers continue to loot public resources, including Marange diamond revenues, without consequences.
Mbeki was said to have been disappointed as he highlighted that the ministers' demands were militating against investment and Sadc's efforts to assist Zimbabwe's US$10 billion Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme (Sterp) endorsed by the Sadc summit in Swaziland in March 2009.
One of the Sadc resolutions reads: "The extraordinary summit noted the Sterp developed by the Zimbabwe government to guide the country's actions and efforts towards economic and social recovery, estimated at US$10 billion. The extraordinary summit urged member states to support Zimbabwe to implement Sterp in the form of budget support, lines of credit, joint ventures and toll manufacturing."
Addressing delegates at the Diamond conference in Victoria Falls, Mbeki, after informing Mugabe of his ministers' corrupt behaviour, went on to say Zimbabwe's resources, including diamonds, should be used genuinely to benefit the ordinary people, not the well-connected.
"This must also mean that this country's political leadership, including all the parties which serve in the current inclusive government established because of the GPA, must absolutely ensure that the diamond mining industry is not governed by a predatory elite which uses its access to state power to enrich itself, against the interests of the people as a whole, acting in collusion with the mining companies," Mbeki said.
There are a number of ANC-linked businesspeople with interests in Zimbabwe's mining sector, among them Mzi Khumalo and Bridget Radebe, the wife of South Africa's Justice minister Jeff Radebe. South African business magnate Patrick Motsepe and other tycoons have been to Zimbabwe searching for investment opportunities.
Although it remains uncertain if the former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema also has business interests in Zimbabwe, he is known to be close to Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere.