By Fungi Kwaramba
Top government officials and other high-ranking Zimbabwean citizens have been fingered in murky dealings involving a convict who acted as a middleman for American businesses in a development that has exposed how the well-heeled in Zanu PF are making a killing through influence peddling.
The exposé burst into the public glare during the on-going trial in the United States of Mel Reynolds — a former congressman — found guilty of failing to file income tax returns relating to earnings made while consulting for Chicago businessmen in Africa.
Reynolds was arrested in Zimbabwe in 2014 for overstaying and had to be deported to his country where he fell into the long arm of the law.
When he was bundled out of the country, he had been found in possession of pornographic material — a serious crime in Zimbabwe — and had run up an unpaid hotel bill to the tune of $24 500.
Reynolds claims that former deputy Foreign Affairs minister Christopher Mutsvangwa was behind his troubles, as he allegedly orchestrated his deportation three years ago.
The former congressman has hit back by lifting the lid on sweetheart deals he alleged to have involved the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association chairperson, along with a number of other powerful Zimbabwean citizens, and hopes one day the alleged culprits will have their day in court in the US.
His trial in the US has opened a can of worms, revealing how Zimbabwean politicians were making money from acting as bridges between government bureaucrats and American businessmen scurrying for opportunities locally.
Those who enjoy close connections to high offices are also lining their pockets by collecting money from US entrepreneurs under the guise of lobbying.
At the centre of controversy is former deputy Foreign Affairs minister Mutsvangwa, whose company, MonCris (Private) Limited, did extensive lobbying for the Americans.
MonCris derives its name from the prefixes for Mutsvangwa and his wife’s first names — Christopher and Monica.
MonCris is alleged to have benefited immensely from dealings with Reynolds — a twice convicted felon whose political career was upended by a sexual assault charge.
In a letter seen by the Daily News, Mutsvangwa wrote pleading with multi-million American businessman Elzie Higginbottom to rope in Reynolds as he was connected to the “power structure” in Zimbabwe.
Higginbottom has a net worth of around $6 billion.
In his letter to Higginbottom, Mutsvangwa spoke highly of the man who now accuses him of having received bribes.
“I am writing regarding a personal matter. I have been trying to speak with Mel because I need his help without success. He has called me back, but he is not himself or displays the same enthusiasm.
“Please, speak with him because he is absolutely paramount to what the senator and I are trying to do in protecting and projecting your nascent and budding interests in Zimbabwe,” wrote Mutsvangwa in 2012.
“My words cannot describe how hard he has worked on your behalf here. His commitment to the envisaged success of your business interests was total. So indeed was his dedication to you which he evinced in all meetings with political figures and business personalities,” reads part of the letter to Higginbottom.
Mutsvangwa has confirmed penning the letter before his fallout with Reynolds. He said he was once close to Reynolds before he discovered who he really was.
“I wrote the letter before I knew the person he is and I never took any money. The money that was send to me, I used it to pay for his legal bills and also other loans he had,” said Mutsvangwa.
The former Cabinet minister went further in his letter to Higginbottom to say that well-meaning foreign investors often fall in wrong hands when they come to do business in Zimbabwe and thus leave frustrated, having been milked of their money.
“I truly hope that Mel does not allow his frustration to get in the way of what he is doing in Zimbabwe. As a direct result of our joint work, I am grateful that we are on the verge of a great success,” said Mutsvangwa.
Singing praises for Reynolds, Mutsvangwa said the former congressman — who was disgraced after sleeping with minors in the 1990s — “has an admiration” for Zimbabwean political leadership and “love for our people’’.
“It has to be recalled that most of present leaders that hold sway in Zimbabwe cut their political teeth in the fight against white racist masters. They tend to readily empathise with the congressman as they see his travails with the ruling white elite of America in similar light . . . Feelings of black solidarity are the main reason why his permanent residency and yours in Zimbabwe are now just a matter of formal request. I daresay that he has become a good political asset on my side and his absence would create a void I would always have to explain as I continue work on various business initiatives,” said Mutsvangwa.
Mutsvangwa also claimed in his letter to Higginbottom that Tourism minister Walter Mzembi was so impressed with the work the American was doing so much that he decided to present him with a present just to show his appreciation.
”I just want to tell you a story in confidence. When we were last in Chicago, the Tourism minister and his wife wanted to show their great appreciation for the work that you and Mel are doing in Zimbabwe,” he wrote.
“When we arrived at the hotel, they presented the congressman a present on behalf of the tourism industry. It was an ostrich egg. Upon receiving this, Mel immediately said this should not be done for me. He then asked them to present the gift to you as the rightful person to honour. He said to them in my presence that without your support he would not have been able to accomplish anything in Zimbabwe. This really showed all of us what kind of a man he is,” said Mutsvangwa, a former diplomat.
Efforts to speak to Mzembi were fruitless as he was unreachable.
Reynolds is, however, alleging that ministers, including President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace, also benefited from the shady dealings.
Other individuals cited as having benefited include local businessman Freddie Mtandah.
Mtandah told the Daily News that although he received money from the former congressman, things turned bad when he got involved with local politicians.
“I know him (Reynolds) very well, he came to us and he introduced us to Higginbottom who gave money to us when I was still American Business Association chairperson. He was introduced to us by the then American ambassador. Yes, they gave us money but not in my individual capacity as Freddie Mtandah.
“He approached us, he sponsored us on a number of times, when he fell out with his business partners who are politicians. He was dealing with politicians, and he was disowned because of those links,” said Mtandah.
He said they fell out because of a diamond deal that went sour, alleging Mugabe was involved.
“Mutsvangwa got bribed by someone who is obsessed with diamonds who thought I was going to tell the story about bribes,” said Reynolds in an interview.
In a statement released this week, Reynolds accused Mutsvangwa of reneging on their business dealings and setting him up with the Central Intelligence Organisation the last time he visited Zimbabwe before being deported.
The statement said Reynolds was now in talks with lawyers in preparation of filing a criminal complaint against Higginbottom and Mutsvangwa with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding these alleged criminal activities and the human rights abuses that the congressman suffered in Zimbabwe because of Higginbottom and Mutsvangwa.
It said Reynolds is pursing filing a criminal complaint because the United States Department of Justice, through its Northern District of Illinois location, has refused to act on these criminal activities.
“Congressman Reynolds is hoping to do this before the prosecution seeks to have him incarcerated even prior to any sentencing hearing regarding the misdemeanour tax charge to keep him incommunicado and away from the media,” reads part of the statement. Daily News