By Barbara Jones
LONDON – Millions of cash in pounds sent home by exiled Zimbabweans based in the UK has up ended up in the hands of Russian spy network linked to Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF, a report from a British newspaper revealed. The glamorous redhead who confessed in an American court to being a Russian spy faces claims that she was involved in a money-smuggling operation while she lived in England.
Anna Chapman, 28, is said to have been behind black-market deals worth millions of pounds while working with a businessman introduced to her by her father, who is a diplomat in the Russian Embassy in the Zimbabwean capital Harare. Working for a company called Southern Union, she is said to have organised the movement of cash from British bank accounts to Zimbabwe from the North London flat she shared with her former husband, Alex Chapman.
Yet, while Ms Chapman was never linked to the company in documents filed at Companies House, her then husband was paid £40,000 a year by the firm, which included a £10,000 payment he received on condition he was listed as a director. Mr Chapman says he asked to leave the company shortly after he split from Anna in 2005. The Mail on Sunday revealed earlier this month that MI5 questioned Mr Chapman, in the days following his former wife’s arrest, on the subject of Southern Union.
One of the personalities in which the intelligence officer took interest, Mr Chapman claimed, was Ken Sharpe, an entrepreneur in Harare with strong Russian and Ukrainian contacts. Mr Sharpe, who has denied any wrongdoing, says he was merely a client of Southern Union. A source said that Russian-speaking Mr Sharpe, who is married to a Russian dancer, was introduced to Ms Chapman by her father, Vasily Kushchenko. Mr Kushchenko met the entrepreneur in Harare.
Mr Chapman said that it was through Mr Sharpe that Anna Chapman found herself working at Southern Union. According to a source, Zimbab-weans wanting to send cash home from the UK would pass it to Ms Chapman and her husband who, through international accounts with British banks, would offer a superior exchange rate to anything else on the black market, and wire the sterling to accounts in the African state.
The source said: ‘One bank account they used was at a branch of Barclays in Histon, near Cambridge. There were several others. Much larger sums – millions of pounds’ worth each month – were also being traded on behalf of the Zimbabwe business community.’
Eyewitnesses who worked in the Harare office of Southern Union added that a Ukrainian ‘bagman’ called Vitaly collected bundles of cash from Zimbabwean banks.
But because of spiralling inflation in the country, Zimbabwean currency lost value quickly, so it is understood that the currency would be fed to illegal gold, diamond and emerald traders. The source added that gold ingots and gems would then be flown into Zambia and exchanged for foreign currency which would then find its way to bank accounts.
When those using the scheme wanted their money returned, they contacted Chapman and her husband. They arranged for the money to be transferred back to a Zim-babwean account. The cash was then picked up by associates who distributed it by hand. A former client at Southern Union claimed: ‘At that time everything you can imagine about a country with its economy in crisis was going on in our offices in Harare.
‘We had Russians and Ukrainians running most of the business from our offices in Harare. Businesses all over Zimbabwe relied on us. We were not the only money-smugglers but we were the biggest. Anna’s father was crucial to that because he was an official at the Russian Embassy. He stayed in the background but he opened many doors for us.’
Today Mr Sharpe, his wife and 12-year-old daughter live in a substantial villa in the gated community in a suburb of Harare close to Robert Mugabe’s private palace. He has an ocean-going yacht moored off the Seychelles. Earlier this month, Mr Sharpe said that he worked with Southern Union but had not been a financial beneficiary of the company. He claimed that his role was merely to purchase goods, including oil and food, for people in Zimbabwe with funds provided to him by Southern Union.
In a statement last night he added: ‘I am not and have not been involved in activities including currency smuggling, money-laundering and illicit trade in gold or gems. ‘I am a businessman and was a client of Southern Union, which I neither founded nor operated.’ Mr Chapman declined to comment. Barclays said they could not comment for data protection reasons. UK Daily Mail