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Tobacco company dodges parly scrutiny after failing to pay US$1 million loan

One of the four tobacco companies that were cherry-picked by controversial Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) bosses to receive inputs worth US$2 803 376 on Tuesday dodged National Assembly scrutiny amid allegations that it bribed leaders of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture in order not to be invited for investigations.

TIMB chief executive officer Meanwell Gudu is jointly charged with former CEO Evaristo Matibiri and Stewart Shanyika, a former Head Special Projects on criminal abuse of duty charges after they “corruptly” allocated inputs worth US$2 803 376 to Bigway Leaf Tobacco, Ethical Leaf Tobacco, Central Leaf Tobacco and Bindura Tobacco during the 2020/2021 tobacco farming season.

Nehanda Radio understands that US$352 040 was disbursed to Bigway Leaf Tobacco, US$651 864,42 disbursed to Ethical Leaf Tobacco, US$772 100,54 disbursed to Central Leaf Tobacco and US$1 027 371,04 disbursed to Bindura Tobacco for onward lending to their contracted farmers.

It was, however, discovered that not all invoices were submitted by contractors to TIMB for capturing, resulting in US$660 345,04 worth of inputs given to the contractors during the season remaining unaccounted.

The interest for the loan is 14%.

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On Tuesday, Bigway Leaf Tobacco, Ethical Leaf Tobacco and Central Leaf Tobacco appeared before the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Agriculture chaired by Gokwe-Nembudziya MP Justice Mayor Wadyajena.

Bindura Tobacco snubbed the meeting raising suspicion of corruption due to questions, why it did not come when it is yet to pay the loan worth US$1 027 371, 04 advanced to it by TIMB.

The company is owned by Agrippa Bwanya who is believed to have a strong relationship with the former ICT Minister who was sacked after the military coup that ousted former President Robert Mugabe.

In an interview with Nehanda Radio, Bindura Tobacco general manager Blessing Mudzamba confirmed their company did not attend the Parliament business. He stated that the company had paid part of the loan.

“Bindura tobacco entered a Management Agreement to distribute inputs worth $1 027 371 to Farmers on behalf of TIMB. Please note that this was Not a loan to Bindura tobacco, but a management agreement of which legal contracts are available,” he said.

“It is not true that nothing has been paid. In 2020 -2021 60% of the input debt was paid by the farmers back to TIMB. We confirm that interest charges to farmers is 14% as contained in the management agreement signed

“Bindura tobacco is not aware of any such meeting taking place as we did not receive any invitation.”

On the issue of ownership of the company, Mudzamba said:

“Bindura Tobacco is not a public company but a private company. We therefore don’t see the need to disclose the ownership of the company. However, because of your interest, we can state categorically that Mr Agrippa Bwanya you mention is not the owner of Bindura Tobacco.

“We do not know of Mr Bwanya’s personal relationships and have no interest of knowing such.”

Asked if Bindura Tobacco and TIMB had a written agreement of timelines when the latter is supposed to repay the US$1 million, Mudzamba said:

“Matters between us and Timb are of contractual nature and kindly note that we are not at liberty to divulge contractual matters with the press as we are bound by confidentiality clauses.”

He added: “Bindura tobacco is a continuing business, and all business processes are continuing as normal supporting our farmers.”

Meanwhile, Bindura Tobacco has been in existence since February 2017.