May 13, 2008

Gono seizes POSB’s entire share portfolio, says newspaper

Zimbabwe’s central bank governor Gideon Gono has seized shares worth about Z$6.5 quadrillion which the government-owned POSB held on the stock market, authoritative sources told Zim Online. The sources at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) said that Gono had on Friday wrestled the shares, including nearly $6 quadrillion in Delta Beverages shares from POSB chief executive Admore Kandlela after a tense week in which the controversial governor personally threatened Kandlela with dismissal if he resisted. It was not immediately clear on whose behalf Gono acted with one RBZ official who declined to be named for professional reasons saying the governor was acting on behalf of a powerful politician aligned to President Robert Mugabe, while others suggested he grabbed the shares for himself.

The murky transaction has left the government-owned or POSB People’s Own Savings Bank – Zimbabwe’s largest savings bank catering for mostly low income depositors – on the brink of collapse as the shares made up more than 75 percent of its balance sheet. Sources said Gono initially wanted POSB’s shares in the part South African-owned blue-chip company Delta, valued at nearly $6 quadrillion and when eyebrows were raised on why he was targeting only Delta, he then demanded the bank’s entire share portfolio. This includes a strategic 18 percent in CFX Bank Limited, shares in Old Mutual, Hippo Valley, Star Africa and African Sun Limited. Our source at the RBZ said Gono was acting on behalf of a top politician aligned to Mugabe and had particularly targeted the POSB-stake in Delta as part of the government’s plans to seize control of businesses accused of supporting opposition politicians.

"The government says it knows SAB Miller supported (Simba) Makoni and interestingly it is a shareholder in Delta. But it gets interesting because the Delta boss Joe Mtizwa was accused of being on (Morgan) Tsvangirai’s side and being a runner in the botched unity deal between MDC and Zanu PF," the RBZ source said. SAB Miller is a minority shareholder in Delta. But another source, a top banking executive following the developments, said it was Gono who wanted the shares for himself as he continues to build a business empire spanning the media industry, banking, agriculture and petroleum. The sources agreed that the prized asset was Delta shares and that seizing the rest of the portfolio was meant to mask this effort after senior management at POSB "began asking questions". "His (Gono’s) argument was that he wants them for strategic purposes," the RBZ source said.

Efforts to get a comment from Gono were not successful as he was attending an African Development Bank meeting in Mozambique, while Kandlela and and others involved could not be reached for comment. (Zim Online, South Africa)

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