AN undercover operation by the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID) led to the arrest of Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation (ZMF) president Henrietta Rushwaya as she attempted to smuggle 6kg of gold to Dubai on Monday.
Tis became a culmination of a monitoring and surveillance mission which threatens to open a Pandora’s Box on grand-scale mineral looting and corruption.
Rushwaya was being assisted by state security agents at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, including a member of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s close security unit, when police swooped in.
Four other persons—Mnangagwa’s security aide Stephen Tserayi, state security operative Rafius Mupandauya, ZMF’s strategic partner Ali Mohammed who also runs the car dealership Ali Japan 786 and Gift Karanda — have also been arrested in connection with the matter.
Tserayi, Mupandauya and Karanda allegedly assisted the former Zimbabwe Football Association boss to circumvent and breach security checks.
Rushwaya identified Ali as the owner of the contraband which the accused also linked to First Lady Auxillia and her son Collins.
The state security agents are accused of assisting Rushwaya and cohorts to switch off the closed-circuit television system (CCTV) at the airport – a serious security breach – to facilitate the smuggling.
They also expedited her clearance, which took only four minutes, from the time she entered the airport terminal.
Security sources said what Rushwaya, who is well-connected andclose to President Mnangagwa, not aware of was that she was already under surveillance by MID operatives before she got to the airport and while at the departure lounge after her accomplices had left, leading to her arrest.
MID worked with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)’s Minerals, Flora and Fauna Unit (MFFU) at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority (Caaz) to coordinate the monitoring and surveillance operations, leading to her arrest.
MID deals with various matters, ranging from political, economic to criminal issues. CID is charged with investigating and detecting all serious crimes in Zimbabwe. The NewsHawks established this week that in recent weeks the MID has been investigating, tracking and profiling gold miners and buyers to establish, among other issues, their production levels as well as how and who they sell to.
The military intelligence has also been comparing production figures with quantities delivered to the state-run Fidelity Refiners and Printers, while also examining invoices and payments.
Security sources said the operation confirmed the existence of cash-rich politically-connected gold barons who are smuggling the precious metal out of the country — particularly to Dubai and South Africa — before salting away millions of United States dollars to offshore bank accounts.
Dubai and Mauritius are some of their main banking destinations. The gold magnates include influential politicians in the top echelons of power, government officials, ministers, legislators and business tycoons.
The syndicates have modern equipment for melting gold concentrate, purification and elution. They also have gold amalgamation barrels used for the separation of bullion from gold concentrate amalgam.
Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe in September said Zimbabwe was losing US$100 million worth of gold every month through smuggling.
Gold remains the country’s biggest foreign currency earner. Last year, the country earned US$946 million, down from US$1.3 billion in 2018, from exports of the yellow metal.
As part of the investigation, the MID also sought to establish how the criminal syndicates and their networks operate and smuggle the mineral out of the country.
“The investigation revealed that there was rampant gold smuggling to Dubai from Zimbabwe, through the Robert Mugabe International Airport using both commercial aircraft and private jets,” a security agent told The NewsHawks.
“Rushwaya was naturally one of the persons monitored because she controls many small-scale miners through the Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation structures and networks.”
The Rushwaya-led ZMF this month signed three strategic partnerships with the CBZ Bank , Ali Japan786, a company in the automobile industry and the state-run Central Mechanical and Engineering Department (CMED) aimed at capacitating small-scale miners to ramp up production.
The MID however believes the deal was part of a ploy to facilitate gold smuggling, although some of the players may not have been aware of the sinister motive.
Mines Minister Winston Chitando, who is the ZMF patron, attended the ceremony and applauded Rushwaya for the work she was doing.
Under the partnership, CBZ committed to be ZMF’s banking partner, while ZMF would acquire gold buying permits, identify agents and establish gold-buying centres in all mining districts.
CMED committed to assist miners with fuel, while Ali Japan, which Rushwaya revealed was also a gold buyer, would provide small scale miners with motor vehicles and mobile mining machinery on flexible payment terms.
The Japanese investor committed to ship in at least 200 vehicles for distribution to the small-scale miners before the end of the year.
Rushwaya said with ZMF buying gold countrywide from small scale miners, leakages would be plugged, but the MID believed it was a cover up for smuggling.
In recent years, gold production volumes from artisanal and small scale miners in Zimbabwe have eclipsed those from large-scale miners.
Gold delivery data from Fidelity Refiners and Printers shows that, in 2019, artisanal and small-scale miners accounted for 63% of the 27 650.26 kilogrammes of gold bought by the state entity.
Security agents revealed Rushwaya was arrested while going through a “routine exercise” of compromising the airport’s security with the help of state security agents and bribing officials manning the facility as they were not aware MID, CID and other security agencies were hot on their heels.