The two Airbus A320 planes at the centre of a wrangle between Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) and an Isle of Man company, South JetOne Ltd, were leased to the troubled airline with the latter demanding a US$50 million fee, it has emerged.
One of the planes in dispute is at Robert Mugabe International Airport, while the other is at OR Tambo International Airport, where it has been gathering dust and debt since 2013. Zimbabwe Independent spotted the grounded aircraft last week at OR Tambo, where it is being kept in the open, exposed to the elements.
At the moment, AirZim cannot access the planes' software and thus cannot fly them.
AirZim had previously claimed that the planes were given to the government of Zimbabwe by Isle of Man authorities as a donation before they were later given to the airline during former president Robert Mugabe's time in office.
South JetOne Ltd lawyer, Honour Mkushi of Sawyer and Mkushi Legal Practitioners, said AirZim's donation claim had no basis since they could not prove their claim.
"The planes were never donated in the first place, here (at Sawyer and Mkushi) we do not have documentation which is indicative of any donations of these planes to government of Zimbabwe. If Air Zimbabwe is doubting who the actual owner of the planes is, then surely they would have donation documentation which proves that they were actually given the planes. If the planes were a donation given to the government of Zimbabwe, how then does a donor fail to ensure that the planes were maintained? Wouldn't the donor support Air Zimbabwe?" asked Mkushi.
"What actually happened, in fact, is that there was a lease agreement between South JetOne Ltd and Air Zimbabwe, which states that they could use the planes and pay in exchange of the services but that has not been the case. So we are working on behalf of our client so that we come up with a solution, so that Air Zimbabwe can sort out their arrears to my client. Air Zimbabwe owes my client more than US$50 million."
AirZim corporate services manager and spokesperson Tafadzwa Mazonde confirmed that they, indeed, had a lease agreement with South JetOne.
"We do have a lease agreement with South JetOne, but I cannot divulge further details at the moment."
"The details of South JetOne and Air Zimbabwe's dealings are the reconstruction process and it is something that Mr Reggie Saruchera (AirZim administrator) will verify once the documents come in," Mazonde said.
A senior AirZim official, who commented on condition of anonymity, said the issue concerning the flag carrier's engagement with South JetOne had attracted government interest. He said government officials were now involved in negotiations.
AirZim is in the red and is hoping that government assumes its US$387 million debt, which is making the technically insolvent airline unattractive to investors.