By Gift Phiri
Deposed president Robert Mugabe’s ex-helicopter pilot is asking President Emmerson Mnangagwa to help him reclaim his family home seized by the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) over a ZW$6,2 million aircraft deal that collapsed in 1997.
The retired presidential wing commander, Stephen Jackson Chituku, who is still flying was granted a loan facility by the IDBZ on June 5, 1997, which was operating as the Zimbabwe Development Bank at the time, in the sum of Z$6,2 million.
The presidential helicopter pilot’s company Southend Cargo Airlines (Private) Limited had applied to the IDBZ for a loan to lease a cargo aircraft from a United States company known as Interjet Leasing Corporation to ferry horticultural produce from Zimbabwe to US and Europe markets.
The plane Chituku wanted to lease was a DC8-63 Freighter, which carries up to 45 tonnes of flowers.
Citrus is Zimbabwe’s leading export horticulture product, followed by flowers, then peas, fresh leguminous vegetables, meat, berries while an assortment of other produce make up the remainder.
During this time, Zimbabwe’s horticulture sector was at its peak, earning a staggering US$143 million annually, but then collapsed spectacularly since the advent of the controversial land reform programme driven by Mugabe since 2000.
The Air Force of Zimbabwe ex-combatant required a deposit to lease the aircraft.
The deposit was, however, to be paid in foreign currency.
Chituku, who is also an ex-Affretair cargo aircraft DC8-55F pilot, and his wife Patience, approached the IDBZ for a loan.
The IDBZ loan agreement was put in writing and it indicated that the capital amount borrowed was the sum of Z$6,2 million in foreign currency, even though the IDBZ capital debt was Z$5,9 million.
According to the terms of the loan, he was supposed to repay the Z$6,2 million over a period of 60 months at an interest rate of 10,5 percent per annum.
Instalments of principal amount were supposed to begin from May 30, 1998.
The IDBZ did not have the foreign currency that the pilot required and it purchased the foreign currency from the Standard Chartered Bank, which in turn made the payment directly to the creditor in the US.
A sum of $6,2 million was used by Standard Chartered Bank to purchase the sum of foreign currency that the pilot needed, documents to hand show.
Because Standard Chartered Bank struggled to obtain Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) clearance, this delayed the money from reaching the aircraft supplier.
This forced Interjet to opt out of this transaction.
Interjet, immediately, thereafter went into liquidation, and all the money paid to it was lost.
The Standard Chartered Bank then sued Chituku seeking to recover its money.
Lillian Hapanyengwi, Standard Chartered-Zimbabwe head of corporate affairs and brand and marketing, declined to comment on the case.
“This is customer information, we can’t comment,” she told the Daily News.
The Daily News understands a stop order had been established through the Standard Chartered Bank to IDBZ Bank.
The loan amount was secured by Chituku’s mortgage bond valued at Z$1,7 million — covered by the deposit paid to IDBZ — over his property at lot 2 of lot 381 in the leafy Highlands suburb in Harare as well as a Notarial General Covering Bond valued at Z$5,2 over the presidential helicopter pilot’s company Southend Cargo Airlines’s moveable assets, together with shareholders sureties of Chituku and his wife.
Chituku said the collapse of the deal presented a logistical nightmare.
He said five pilots and four engineers who had been employed to fly the horticultural products were stuck in the US, and he was forced to approach the Zimbabwean embassy in New York, which helped in getting donors to fly out the aircrew delegation back home.
IDBZ Bank then resorted to litigation in the High Court, and Chituku’s lawyer reportedly entered a consent order that Chituku repays the money in full.
Chituku said his lawyer agreed to a consent order without his authority and the same month the barrister disappeared to London.
All the same, Chituku claims he paid US$3,5 million to the IDBZ Bank, but curiously, the bank auctioned off his house despite paying the owed amount.
IDBZ spokesperson Priscilla Zvobgo told the Daily News that claims by Chituku that he repaid $3,5m to IDBZ were not correct, and his failure to pay back the loan forced the bank to sue and foreclose on the security that it held.
“The bank won all the law suits that it instituted, paving way for the recovery of the loaned amounts,” Zvobgo said.
“All the court cases are a matter of public record. Indeed Mr Chituku tried to appeal to the Supreme Court at various times, but all his appeals were dismissed.”
In May 2003, Chituku attempted to have the consent order set aside.
But then High Court judge Rita Makarau on June 16, 2004, dismissed the application for rescission. Chituku then appealed against that judgment and it was again dismissed.
The IDBZ obtained a Writ of Execution against Chituku’s movable and immovable property used to secure the loan based on the judgment of the High Court granted by consent.
The Deputy Sheriff then auctioned Chituku and his wife’s immovable property including the family home.
Chituku claims because the prices offered at the time were “unreasonably low” and the immovable property was in any event mortgaged to IDBZ, the infrastructure bank moved to purchase the property at the auction.
This offer was accepted and Chituku claims all the requirements of both the auctioneer and the Sheriff were allegedly wrongly done as the judgement creditor IDBZ bidded for the house for a “paltry”
Z$100 000, a figure disputed by IDBZ.
The sale of Chituku’s home was effected by public auction on April 30, 2004 and Chituku claims the IDBZ’s bid at the time was
Z$110 000. The IDBZ was also required to pay the auctioneer’s commission of Z$5 500.
Chituku averred that this was a “corrupt transaction” because IDBZ was the only bidder and buyer, which he claimed is not allowed in a public auction. He said the IDBZ changed the title deeds without the sheriff confirming the sale with him.
Chituku says it was surprising that his house was sold even after IDBZ received US$3,5m plus interest, which he claims came up to about $7m to date.
Zvobgo said “it is not correct that the house was bought at the auction ‘at a paltry ZW$100 000’ or even ‘Z$110,000’ as indicated in your e-mail. The correct position is that the value realised from the auction was Z$110 million.”
“So that you get the proper context which is not tainted by the then prevailing inflationary environment, when the loan of Z$6,2m was advanced to Southend Cargo in 1997, Mr Chituku’s house had a market value of only Z$1,7m hence a mortgage bond of merely Z$1,7m was registered.
“The bidding process — there was nothing illegal or corrupt in the manner in which the auction was conducted. If indeed your source harboured these sentiments as you allege, why did he not seek redress from the Sheriff and or the courts since 2004?”
Zvobgo said the IDBZ, “throughout, followed due diligence and proper business conduct despite frequent attempts by the plaintiff to cite his alleged connections as former pilot of the former president.”
“We believe this is the extent to which we can respond to your e-mail within the context of what is reasonably permissible under the context of the banker-customer relationship that subsisted between the Bank and your source.”
Chituku said he has approached the current RBZ governor John Mangudya seeking his intervention to secure the return of his property “on this serious matter as the bank oversight hub.”
“He promised uprightness and sanctioned the bank for a round table, but IDBZ snubbed the governor,” Chituku claimed.
Reached for comment, Mangudya told the Daily News: “Thanks for your enquiry. Unfortunately I am not at liberty to comment on client-bank relationship. I kindly advise you to check on the matter with his bank.”
Chituku said the country still does not have its own Cargo Freighter to ferry horticultural products to Europe and asked that the IDBZ be compelled to redo this project.
“Especially after paying US$3,5m where is the money gone as we hold receipts?” he asked rhetorically.
“This has taken 20 years; we just want our house back. We regret having dealt with this bank.”
He said to date, five management teams have gone through IDBZ and his money has been unaccounted for, even though he has receipts showing he repaid the money but still lost his house.
“Our family is homeless and we are appealing if we can be put back in our only house until this is reversed.
“If (white) farmers’ court judgements are reversed, why can’t this judgment be reversed by the presidium as we have no money to spend another 20 years in the courts as we can’t take it back for another 20 years to court on such a straightforward corrupt case,” a distraught Chituku told the Daily News.
“President ED, (Chris) Mutsvangwa, (vice presidents Constantino) Chiwenga, (Kembo) Mohadi all know me. I flew Bob from (the time of the late first lady) Sally (Hayfron) days to Grace (Marufu) era,” he said.
“I plead with the presidium and our heads of armed forces to help me get my house back as I am now at a time where I can’t build another house as my age and health is now a challenge,” he said. DailyNews