April 26 / 29, 2004

ZIMBABWE: Finance minister arrested for corruption

Zimbabwe's Finance Minister, Chris Kuruneri, was arrested on corruption charges. Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said that Kuruneri was being held in jail on charges of violating Zimbabwe's foreign exchange control act. Bvudzijena said that it was revealed that Kuruneri had spent up to R30-million building an eight-bedroom mansion in the expensive seaside suburb of Llandudno, could form part of the charges. In the Zimbabwean media, Kuruneri denied that the money used to construct the Llandudno house [in Cape Town] had been improperly obtained. He said the money had been earned from consultancy work he had done abroad. He claimed that he had raised a lot of foreign currency while working for Mobile Systems International of Britain and Felipe Solano of Spain. Kuruneri also said he knew the Foreign Exchange Control Act provisions very well since he was a lawyer and could not be found on the wrong side of the law.

After a South African newspaper, the Sunday Times, broke the story, local media in Zimbabwe jumped on the story as well. According to the Financial Gazette, party sources said what could have spurred the internal security agents to dig deeper and bring the finance minister to book were media reports which suggested that President Mugabe could have been behind the controversial R30 million mansion being built by Kuruneri in Cape Town. The media reports claimed the President was using Kuruneri as a front. Kuruneri himself publicly denied this and stated that President Mugabe had nothing to do with his real estate investments in South Africa. "The President had to be cleared," said a party source.

Analysts were this week unanimous that if the state security agents - who only acted on a report from a South African newspaper - were totally unaware of Kuruneri's financial activities, then it was a damning indictment on their part. They, however, said this was highly unlikely. Chairman of Transparency International Zimbabwe Chapter John Makumbe, whose organisation has ranked the Southern African country among the most corrupt nations in the world, said although Zanu PF was engaged in self cleansing, more senior party officials rumoured to be guilty of corruption should be investigated. Small fish who do not pose a threat to Zanu PF's sustenance continue to be sacrificed for cheap political gain, Makumbe claimed. "It's part and parcel of self cleansing on the part of Zanu PF," Makumbe argued. "Who's is Kuruneri in Zanu PF? A nobody. He is on the periphery. It's a smart way of offloading corrupt wood in the party, but it will still remain a political gimmick until President Mugabe starts hitting at party heavyweights." Makumbe continued: "If Kuruneri's appointment as Minister of Finance was a serious one, then it demonstrates President Mugabe's gullibility. Why he appointed him in February only to lock him up in April goes to show that no homework was done before the appointment. It took independent South African newspapers to expose him for the government to act. Yet they shoot down the private media who expose these corrupt tendencies. One can argue that they (government) don't really know who is and who is not corrupt until the private media exposes them," Makumbe said. (Sunday Times, Johannesburg / Financial Gazette, Harare).

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