HARARE – Treasury secretary George Guvamatanga’s acceptance of lavish gifts from suspected corruption business tycoon Kudakwashe Tagwirei is legally questionable, lawyers say.
Guvamatanga spared no expense last Friday as he celebrated his 50th birthday with three South African artists – Mafikizolo, Makhadzi and Louis Mhlanga – who were flown in to entertain selected guests.
Tagwirei, the biggest recipient of government contracts in the past five years, lavished gifts on the government paymaster, promising a private jet, $50,000 spending money, a cardboard box at Emirates Stadium in London and a shirt signed by Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
‘We have sanctions, but we are making things happen there (in the UK),’ Tagwirei boasted, referring to travel and financial sanctions the UK imposed on him in July for corrupting “the well poisoned by democracy”.
Lawyer Tinomudaishe Chinyoka, who was part of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legal team, said Tagwirei’s gift to Guvamatanga smacks of corruption.
“Given the allegations against the donor and how he benefits from certain Treasury Department decisions, the question of what he pays is reasonable,” Chinyoka said.
Prominent lawyer Thabani Mpofu said Tagwirei’s gift was a bribe. Mpofu said, “Guvamatanga is the government paymaster and Tagwirei is the biggest beneficiary of some of the most shady and inappropriate payments made under this government.”
Under Guvamatanga, Tagwirei’s company, Sakunda Holdings, redeemed government treasury bonds up to 10 times their official value, accelerating the depreciation of the Zimbabwean dollar.
Through his company Fossil Group, Tagwirei also receives millions of dollars into state coffers for road construction contracts, while another of his companies, Landela Investments, reportedly received $110 million government to import buses without tender.
Tagwirei also struck an opaque deal with the government, combining its mining assets with those of the government to create a company called Kuvimba.
The Tagwirei mines officially belonged to Sotic, whose shareholder, the South African Christopher Fourie, refused to sign the transaction.
When Tagwirei fell ill with Covid-19 earlier this year, Fourie announced that Guvamatanga had resumed negotiations to ensure he left calmly, the Financial Times reported.
“Kuda is currently unable to work… but is happy to talk to you,” Guvamatanga Fourie said in messages, which date back to a time earlier this year when Tagwirei was flown overseas for treatment.
“I can help in this case, but not with you threatening everyone like that,” he said.
“You have to focus on what you personally want out of all of this. Nothing else will help you.
In another message, Guvamatanga said, “In the absence of KT (Kudakwashe Tagrirei), I spoke to Obey about your case. So that I can press for a resolution, please send me a summary of what you would consider a complete and final claim. It is in our interest that this matter be resolved out of court as a matter of urgency.
The Obey Guvamatanga referred to is Obey Chimuka, an associate of Tagwirei who runs some of its companies, including the Fossil Group.
Fourie told the Financial Times that he had sent Guvamatanga a proposal to sell his stake in Pfimbi, a subsidiary of Sotic, to Tagwirei. Fourie said Guvamatanga and Tagwirei “seem to be very close and I would class them as personal friends”.
Meeting with the manager to discuss Tagwirei’s business “probably wouldn’t be appropriate,” Fourie admitted. But, he added, “it’s the only way to do business in Zimbabwe.”
Tinashe Murapata, an economic analyst, said, “From a management perspective, Guvamatanga should reject Tagwirei’s gift.
“From a public finance point of view, it is catastrophic when the main beneficiary of the pardon law (parliamentary apology for excessive spending) gives the treasurer of the country a present.”
Lawyer Chinyoka believes Guvamatanga committed a baggy offense and described it as “deaf and misplaced arrogance” after saying he would match Mhlanga’s birthday fee five times.
On Sunday, Guvamatanga defended his extravagant party, saying he could not “pretend to be poor”.