By Chris Goko and Everson Mushava
HARARE – In yet another indication that Mines minister Obert Mpofu is a man of significant means, the senior Zanu PF politician-cum-businessman is buying into one of the country’s struggling banks.
While the Umguza legislator was unavailable for comment yesterday, his company Trebo & Khays (Private) Limited was on Friday listed as part of a consortium keen to buy the technically insolvent Zimbabwe Allied Banking Group (ZABG) by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).
“ZABG which had a negative capital of $15,35 million… is currently finalising negotiations with two potential investors namely Unicapital Finance of Mauritius, Swiss-based AFG Global and a local company Trebo & Khays (Private) Limited,” a central bank statement said, adding that the “transactions were due to be concluded by March 28”.
However, insiders told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that the 60-year-old minister was converting a large debt — owed to his family business — into equity in the troubled bank.
“The minister (Mpofu) is owed significant amounts of money and ZABG has suggested that it converts his debt into equity. Otherwise he has no interest in that bank,” said the source.
The well-placed source added that the bank was also “hoping to use his (Mpofu’s) vast assets”, including high-rise buildings in Bulawayo to strengthen its capital and asset base. With a $16 million hole, Stephen Gwasira’s bank needs in excess of $26 million to escape mandatory closure by the RBZ at the end of March.
According to another source, the incoming group has pledged to inject up to $32 million into the ailing bank. ZABG chief executive Gwasira declined to comment on the issues on Saturday, saying he was in meetings. The bank was formed at the height of the country’s banking troubles in the mid-2000s and has persistently struggled for stability due to inadequate capitalisation.
Its plight was worsened by the return of its three predecessor banks’ assets to their owners in late 2010 — Royal, Trust and Barbican banks. Mpofu’s other known businesses include Kanondo Safaris — a Matabeleland North hunting concession and tourism venture.
A somewhat controversial figure, the rotund minister recently set tongues wagging when he referred to himself as President Robert Mugabe’s “ever-obedient son” — in the aftermath of Core Mining director Lovemore Kurotwi’s untested allegations that the minister had sought a $10 million bribe to facilitate the sustenance of the latter’s diamond mining activities in Chiadzwa.
In recent weeks, Mpofu has not only moved to affirm his wealth, but also said he was never a poor man. In December, Mpofu told journalists at the Harare Quill Club that he was, among other things, one of the country’s largest cattle ranchers.
This was in response to charges that Mpofu and his associates were benefitting undeservedly from the vast Marange diamonds, and that the minister had allegedly “bought the whole of Victoria Falls” using illicit money. While confirming that he had bought a number of properties, the minister stressed that he had acquired many of these using a $1 million loan from CBZ Bank Limited.
Throughout his three-decade public sector career, Mpofu has often hogged the limelight, including recent claims that he was the source of the Chronicle newspaper’s major expose on a vehicle scam that came to be known as the Willowgate scandal in the 1980s.
Several of President Robert Mugabe’s ministers were exposed in that scandal — leading to an abrupt end of their political careers and even death in the case of the late Maurice Nyagumbo.
Although nothing is known about Mpofu’s involvement in the financial sector prior to the planned ZABG deal, he is following in the footsteps of party peers such as ex-Universal Merchant Bank senior executive David Chapfika, Saviour Kasukuwere, who was linked to the equally-struggling Genesis Bank and Zimbabwe Building Society founder Francis Nhema.
Until recently, his Zanu PF was also a major shareholder in listed FBC Holdings Limited. Still, the minister’s proposed entry into a sector which is severely distressed — due to myriad problems — has surprised many.
After calls to several parties, including banks registrar Norman Mataruka and ZABG board members yesterday, the Daily News on Sunday was unable to distill or establish how much Mpofu will be getting in terms of shareholding. Daily News on Sunday