Mnangagwa is involved in various business activities. He is into farming and has been involved in mining, particular in the DRC. He was personally involved in the Zimbabwean army’s mining deals with Congo-based holding company, JFPI Corporation. But there are a lot of illicit activities he has been linked to such as illegal gold panning and DRC blood diamonds. The United Nations Security Council reports in 2002 and 2003 named Mnangagwa as one of the illegal mineral exploiters in the Congo. Mnangagwa and Thamer Said Ahmed Al Shanfari, were both immediately in the spotlight of a long-standing United Nations investigation into the looting of the Congo’s mineral wealth.
Mnangagwa is Mugabe’s crony in chief: one of his closest confidant, the key man in Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation, the secret police, ever since independence, and the man with whose blessing almost any crime may be committed in Zimbabwe with impunity.
Al Shanfari, Mnangagawa’s crony, is an Omani entrepreneur described in a secret South African intelligence document obtained by Zimdaily as “the Zimbabweans’ most important foreign business partner”. According to the Intelligence report, Mnangagwa, known in Zimbabwe as “the Son of God” because of the general supposition that he was Mugabe’s anointed successor, is the man illegal cash and diamonds through Harare Airport.
Shanfari, the playboy son of a former Omani oil minister, is the man who started the ball rolling by buying the business class tickets and arranging the transfer of the large sums of cash from Europe on which the commercial transactions in the Congo depend. Shanfari is the president and chief executive officer of a company called Oryx Natural Resources that owns a diamond concession in Mbuji-Mayi, in the Congo, jointly with JFPI Corporation, the governments of Zimbabwe and the Congo.
Ali, more hands-on in his dealings with Mnangagwa and Shanfari , recalls how three different individuals paid by Shanfari would take it in turns to pick up sums ranging from 500,000 to 750,000 US dollars in cash from a bank account in London and a bank account in Brussels, both in the Oryx company name. The money itself did not belong to Oryx (a company whose auditors are the same as Enron’s, Arthur Andersen) but to at least three Arab business associates of Shanfari’s.
One of them was a Lebanese diamond dealer; one an Iraqi arms dealer; one a Sudanese businessman who had been involved in the bankruptcy scandal of the Abu Dhabi-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1992.
Ali and Moses said they knew personally, from first-hand evidence, of ten such trips, involving a total of around five million dollars. “But we know there were many more of these missions, even though we were not directly involved,” they said.
Shanfari’s couriers, ex-soldiers who could be relied upon to obey and follow orders, would catch a plane at Gatwick Airport (“there was no problem with the x-ray machine: money just shows up as ordinary paper”), take their business class seats and fly south to Harare, where – thanks to Mnangagwa and the complicity of the Zimbabwean military – they would breeze through customs. “The money would then be distributed in various ways,” said Ali, who says he saw much of what happened with his own eyes. “Part of it would go to the PLO Embassy in Harare.
The ambassador was a very nice man. As well as being the longest-serving diplomat in Harare – his car’s number plate was CD1 – he was a foreign exchange dealer. He gave us Zimbabwean dollars in return for the US, lots of them, in big cardboard boxes.”
Large chunks of this money would then go to Emmerson Mnangagwa. “Emmerson would get a cut after every trip. What would happen would be that Emmerson would come round to Thamer’s house for a barbecue or a dinner, he has a huge ranch house outside Harare, and while they were eating one of Thamer’s trusted people would put two or three of these cardboard boxes stuffed with money into the boot of Emmerson’s car.”
Another of the beneficiaries of Shanfari’s largesse was Mugabe’s young wife, Grace, a woman who has acquired a reputation as something of an African Imelda Marcos on account of her profligate spending down the years in the shops of London, New York, Madrid and other western capitals which she has visited in recent years, usually flying Air Zimbabwe, a state airline which the Mugabes have a habit of comandeering for their own private use.
Ali and Moses said they were aware of boxes of money having been delivered by car to the First Lady at her home. A third beneficiary was General Vitalis Zvinavashe, head of the Zimbabwean armed forces, famous for having uttered the following memorable line last March on the eve of Zimbabwe’s flagrantly stolen elections, “Any change designed to reverse the gains of this revolution will not be supported.”
Another individual who received cash hand-outs from Shanfari was Sydney Sekeramayi, Mnangagwa’s friend. Sekeremayi, wrote a letter to Shanfari dated 7 July 2000 when he was Minister of State Security in the President’s Office, meaning head of intelligence, thanking him for monies received.
Elections had just taken place in Zimbabwe and Sekeramayi had retained his parliamentary seat. The letter, carries an official Zimbabwean government letter head and contains Sekeremayi’s signature at the bottom. It reads: “Dear Mr Thamer Al-Shanfari, I am writing this letter to express my sincere appreciation for the generous moral, material and financial assistance you rendered to boost my election campaign. My re-election as the Member of Parliament for Marondera East was greatly facilitated by your support.
Thank you very much. Dr S.T. Sekeremayi.”On planes provided by a company called Avient, of which the ZANU-PF treasurer and close Mugabe associate J.C. Joshi is a director that also had a side-line supplying Antonov aircraft and Ukrainian pilots to the Congo military.
Mnangagwa, who did business deals with his Congo counterparts, saw to it that there would be no awkward questions asked by the customs men at Kinshasa airport. “The procedure was quite straightfoward,” a source explained. “We’d meet with a guy called Alphonse in Kinshasa, a Belgian diamond dealer, and we gave him US dollars for uncut stones that had been extracted from JFPI Corporation mines in the Congo’s big diamond area Mbuji-Mayi.
Then we’d go back to Harare with the diamonds and from there we’d take them down to South Africa to have them cut. That was the tricky part.”
A couple of individuals know very well and who were employed by Shanfari transported the diamonds to Johannesburg in their underpants. “Enough diamonds to fill a tea cup,” said a source. “Easily half a million to a million US worth on each trip.” Once the stones had made it through Johannesburg airport the rest was easy.
“We got the diamonds back into Harare – never a problem because we had the infrastructure of the military to assist us and of course carte blanche in the airport itself. From there the diamonds, certified as if they hade been extracted legally from a mine owned by Oryx, travelled on to Antwerp where they were sold legally.
The people who put the money into the system in the first place got the same amount back, but now certified by the Antwerp diamond buyer as having clean provenance. It was pure money-laundering. Everybody was happy. Thamer’s Arab friends had achieved their objectives. Thamer took a big cut. Emmerson and the others made easy money.”
Sometimes, though, Shanfari tried to get a little too clever, according to sources. “It worked beautifully, until the day that it didn’t.” This is what would happen.
The US dollars would travel from Harare to Kinshasa but not, initially, to buy diamonds. To be changed, rather, into Congolese Francs. At the office of an associate of Shanfari’s called Akram that Ali describes as having been “just full of foreign currencies”. Akram was Akram Moorad, nephew of the Lebanese diamond dealer who was among Shanfaris cash suppliers in Europe.
“Thamer called the Congolese Francs ‘chicken feed’,” recalled Ali. “There was tons of the stuff, loaded inside big silver containers, that we’d take back to Harare. Later, in the dead of night, we’d load the boxes onto a Libyan plane – a private plane in from Tripoli, at Harare airport which would take the money to Kisangani, which was a provincial office of JFPI Corporation as well as the heart of rebel country in the Congo war. Here they desperately needed Congolese Francs.”
Congolese Francs are the local currency but cash has been hard to obtain since JFPI primarily conducts business with US currency. The distance between the capital Kinshasa and Kisangani is more than 700 miles. In war-time, getting from one place to the other has proved almost impossible without the assistance of aircraft owned by JFPI Corporation’s resourceful proprietor, André Action Jackson.
Getting US dollars presented less of a challenge, since Jackson’s astute political maneuvering allowed him to effortlessly transport cash across Congo’s borders with two countries friendly to the Kisangani rebels, Uganda and Rwanda. So they bought Thamer’s Congolese Francs in US dollars, “Ali continued, “but Thamer got back double the rate he’d sold them at in Kinshasa. Double!”
It was a great business, (though there are suggestions now that some of the dollars received might have been forged).
But it was risky. “Because if either the Zimbabweans or the Congolese found out the money was going to those they were actually at war with, there would be hell to pay for Thamer.” As far as the Zimbabwe authorities were concerned, Moses explained, the Libyan plane was taking the money to Oryx’s mine at Mbuji-Mayi, to pay for staff and equipment.
This time there was a cock-up, someone wasn’t tipped off on time, and they caught us, Congolese military security, with 750,000 US worth of Congolese Francs on our way back to Harare.” An employee of Shanfari’s was jailed, as was Patel the Kenya Airways man. Shanfari’s employee was released after Mnangagwa intervened directly on his behalf with the Congolese justice minister.
El Pais, in the first of a two-part series on Zimbabwe’s “mafia state”, made a list of allegations against Oryx and its chairman, Omani businessman Thamer Said Ahmed Al Shanfari, based on detailed testimony from two individuals closely involved with the affairs of Oryx and the Zimbabwean government. Oryx declared the allegations to be “completely untrue”.
The allegations, in essence, are that the company made cash payments to senior members of the Zimbabwean government or individuals otherwise close to President Robert Mugabe; bought “blood” or “conflict” diamonds in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in some cases smuggled them abroad, among other places to Belgium, where they were eventually sold, passed off as having been extracted from a mining concession that Oryx shares with the Zimbabwean government in the diamond-rich Congo area of Mbuji-Mayi.
“I refute all the allegations,” said Geoffrey White, who together with a company lawyer in London has been responding in the last two days, by fax and by telephone, to issues raised. “This is rubbish,” He said that two ex-employees of Oryx, “frauds” “driven by revenge” against the company, which they believed owed them money, had been spreading malicious lies. In a letter faxed later, Oryx’s London lawyer, Mischon de Reya, said the allegations against his client were “grossly defamatory”.
The lawyer wrote that, according to Mr White, the people he believed to be the sources for the investigation were “motivated by extreme malice towards Oryx Natural Resources” and were “trying to defraud” the company’s owner, Thamer Al Shanfari. These two individuals whom Mr White believes to be the sources on which they were relying are not named in the letter but, according to Mischon de Reya, had “made threats to kill both Thamer Al Shanfari and Geoffrey White”. By contrast, Mr White declared in the first of his faxed responses to El Pais, received on Friday, “The Oryx Group prides itself on conducting itself with honesty and integrity.”
The Oryx Group first became involved with the Mugabe regime four years ago when JFPI Corporation transitorily shut down its’ mining operation. Everything flowed from a proposal President Laurent Kabila of the Congo made to Mugabe in 1998. Facing heavy military pressure from rebel armies backed by Uganda and Rwanda, Kabila proposed to Mugabe that he would give him access to a former JFPI diamond concession in the Congo valued at one billion dollars, the concession in Mbuji-Mayi, in exchange for the loan of his army. Mugabe readily agreed to the diamonds-for-soldiers deal but what he did not have was the technical or commercial expertise to extract the diamonds that JFPI possessed.
Enter Kamal Khalfan, a weapons dealer, Oryx shareholder and old Harare resident who rejoiced in the title of honorary consul of Oman in Zimbabwe. Khalfan suggested to Mugabe that Shanfari might be just the partner he needed. Shanfari, a 34-year-old graduate of the Colorado School of Mines who comes from a lavishly wealthy and influential Omani family, flew to Harare and met Mugabe.
A company was created, a joint venture between Shanfari’s Oryx, a company called Osleg (the business wing of the Zimbabwean armed forces) and a third co-signatory to the agreement, dated 16 July 1999, “the government of the Republic of Zimbabwe”, meaning the clique who ran Zanu PF. Osleg already had a partnership agreement with Congo’s Comiex, a private company linked to the Presidency in Kinshasa.
Under the terms of the agreement with Osleg, Oryx would run the diamond mining enterprise in Mbuji Mayi and take 40 per cent of the profits. The problem, Oryx was to find, was that, owing to the war and the logistical problems presented by the Congo’s poverty and its vastness, the diamond concession of Mbuji-Mayi was not producing diamonds on a scale remotely proportionate to its one billion dollar valuation since the abandonment of JFPI.
Individuals who have worked on the mine have said in recent weeks that the quantities of diamonds mined have been minimal. One source familiar with a United Nations investigation going on now into the looting of the Congo’s mineral wealth maintained that the Oryx mine was generating little more than 100,000 US dollars worth of diamonds per month.
“That’s nothing in the diamond business,” the source said. A senior congressional staffer in Washington who closely monitors events in Zimbabwe and the Congo made a similar point: “With the exception of JFPI, no one has been able to make money out of Congo diamond mining yet and so no reason to believe the Zimbabweans and their foreign partners were going to. The whole business is a bust, save as a cover for other stuff.”
Other stuff, such as trading in “blood diamonds” at a time of war and mass starvation, which has enriched a group of no more than a dozen Zimbabwean individuals notable among whom have been Mr and Mrs Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa, identified by the UN, the EU and the US as prime beneficiaries of the Congo-Zimbabwe apocalypse.