Zimbabwe: Vela Battles Anti-Corruption Tide

NSSA building, Harare, Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is lobbying the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) to issue red notices for former National Social Security Authority (Nssa) board chairperson Robin Vela and businessman Adam Molai, implicated in allegations of corruption at the publicly-run pension fund.

The corruption scandal, in which up to US$95 million was allegedly siphoned from the compulsory scheme, has already claimed detained former pubic service and also tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira's scalp.

Vela is accused of prevailing upon Nssa management to authorise a US$16 million payment into a property development company, Housing Corporation Zimbabwe (HCZ), owned by Molai.

According to the BDO audit report, HCZ was just one week old when it received the funds without going to tender.

Vela is challenging report in the courts.

In terms of Zimbabwe's Procurement Act, contracts exceeding one million dollars are supposed to be processed via public tender.

Zacc spokesman John Makamure said this week they wrote to Interpol seeking the duo's placement on red notice after they failed to locate them at their known local addresses. An Interpol red notice is issued at the request of a member country of Interpol or an international tribunal based on a valid national arrest warrant.

"We appealed to Interpol for their placement on the red notice after we failed to locate them at their local places of residence where our investigators wanted to effect arrests. We hope that Interpol will be able to assist in extraditing them so that they can come here and answer to the court charges they are facing," Makamure said.

Vela's lawyers are challenging Zacc's warrant, saying it was irregularly issued mala fide (in bad faith). The Zacc dragnet has netted Mupfumira, who is currently languishing in remand prison, and the ministry's former permanent secretary Ngoni Masoka.

The two are appearing the in the courts on several counts of corruption along with, former Nssa general manager's strategic assistant, James Chiuta.

However, Vela, through his lawyer Admire Rubaya & Rubaya and Chatambudza, on August 27 wrote to Interpol urging international police agency to ignore Zacc's request saying the move was politically motivated.

"We have been instructed by our named client (Vela) to engage you concerning a formal request by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to place him on an International Warrant of Arrest (Red Notice). Kindly note our professional interest.

"We have been instructed to request as we hereby do, that our client be given the right to make representations in connection with the request that has been placed before Interpol in connection with the above," reads Rubaya's letter to Interpol accompanying his affidavit.

"It is our view that you kindly consider the sworn affidavit and attached documents prior to making the decision whether or not to place him on an international warrant of arrest."

In his affidavit, Vela argues that placement on the red notice would expose him to political victimisation in Zimbabwe.

He also says during his stint as Nssa board chair, he handled things professionally and was never involved in any corrupt activities.

"It has says my attention that the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has placed in the Interpol information system a request that I be placed on Interpol red notice. It is my considered view that this request is malicious, ill-conceived and should not be granted," Vela says.

"It is my submission that during that period, I conducted myself lawfully, with honour, zeal, dignity, distinction and patriotism. I am proud of the work that I did

to turn around an institution of national significance that had been failing to meet its mandate.

"After I had left my position, on 27 March 2018, the Auditor General of Zimbabwe, in response to a request following the November 2017 coup from the then newly appointed minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Petronella Kagonye, appointed BDO Zimbabwe, a firm of chartered accountants, to investigate the affairs of Nssa."

Vela further argues that the transaction for which he is wanted by Zacc was done above board, and also questions the motive in targeting only him out of a board comprising of 10 members.

"I am a suspect for an alleged fraud which relates to an offtake agreement between Nssa and HCZ. I deny the allegations that I defrauded Nssa in the sum of US$16 million as alleged or at all. Indeed, as a non-executive director, I have never been a signatory to any Nssa agreement or bank account. The dispute between Nssa and HCZ which arose after my departure from Nssa has been twice adjudicated and explicitly determined to be purely commercial," Vela argued.

"I asset that this matter is political because, though I have never engaged in politics, I am considered as one of the proponents of the Generation 40 (G40) within Zanu PF party. One of my co-suspects, whose name has also been requested to be placed on the Interpol red notice, Adam Molai, is the son in law of former president Robert Gabriel Mugabe. It is my alleged relationship with Adam Molai which has resulted in me being a politically mandate.

"After I had left my position, on 27 March 2018, the Auditor General of Zimbabwe, in response to a request following the November 2017 coup from the then newly appointed minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Petronella Kagonye, appointed BDO Zimbabwe, a firm of chartered accountants, to investigate the affairs of Nssa." Vela further says the transaction for which he is wanted by Zacc was done above board, and also questions the motive in targeting only him out of a board comprising 10 members.

"I am a suspect for an alleged fraud which relates to an offtake agreement between Nssa and HCZ. I deny the allegations that I defrauded Nssa in the sum of US$16 million as alleged or at all. Indeed, as a non-executive director, I have never been a signatory to any Nssa agreement or bank account. The dispute between Nssa and HCZ which arose after my departure from Nssa has been twice adjudicated and explicitly determined to be purely commercial," Vela states.

"I assert that this matter is political because, though I have never engaged in politics, I am considered as one of the proponents of the Generation 40 (G40) within Zanu PF party. One of my co-suspects, whose name has also been requested to be placed on the Interpol red notice, Adam Molai, is the son-in-law of former president Robert Gabriel Mugabe. It is my alleged relationship with Adam Molai which has resulted in me being a politically targeted person.

"It is unimaginable that out of the whole board of directors of Nssa, comprising of 10 members, I alone am singled out as an alleged suspect for decisions that were made and deliberated upon by the whole board.

"The whole board also took collective responsibility and recorded the same in numerous board minutes. This is a political ploy disguised as a tool to try and combat crime/corruption in Zimbabwe. This is a clear example that the red notice is intended to be abused by political hawks who are targeting selected individuals. "

Vela also suggests that the continued incarceration of Mupfumira, who appointed him as Nssa board chair in 2015, is politically motivated.

"I am further a targeted person because I am seen as being close, and even accused of being related to, former minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Prisca Mupfumira who appointed me as chairman of Nssa. I am thus considered a political opponent by those who control the levers of power because of my perceived closeness to their political opponent. "

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