The mysterious case of the disappeared 10 billion dollar court exhibit
Posted by CM on December 30, 2007
I had to check several times to verify that this stunning story was really featured in The Herald (http://www.herald.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=28982&cat=1), the government’s own main propaganda rag sheet. Because the Herald’s online archives are so spotty, it is worth reproducing the article in full here:
HARARE provincial magistrate Mr Mishrod Guvamombe yesterday blasted the police and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for frustrating the course of justice by disposing of the $10 billion exhibit recovered from illegal foreign currency dealer Dorothy Mutekede before it was brought to court.
Mr Guvamombe took a swipe at the police and the central bank when it emerged after the testimonies of deputy officer commanding CID Serious Frauds Section Chief Superintendent Alison Nyamupaguma and RBZ director of Financial Intelligence Unit Mr Mirirai Chiremba that the money had already been deposited with the RBZ before the case was finalised and that its serial numbers were not recorded.
In his testimony, Chief Supt Nyamupaguma told the court that on the night Mutekede was arrested, police took the $10 billion cash exhibit to the central bank where it was deposited into a cash detention account.
When the money was taken to the RBZ, it was not booked in the exhibit book at the police station, which is a prerequisite for all exhibits according to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.
Neither did RBZ officials serialise the money on receipt but returned it into circulation.
This prompted Mr Guvamombe to criticise the two institutions for frustrating the justice delivery system, describing their conduct as tantamount to defeating the course of justice. This, he said, made it difficult for the court to establish the source of the cash.
When asked by the court to explain why the police failed to follow the normal procedure of handling exhibits, Chief Supt Nyamupaguma said, “There was a mistake and we need to revisit the whole system,” said Chief Supt Nyamupaguma. “I now see the loopholes in the system and they should be rectified.”
Mr Guvamombe was not convinced with the explanation.
“Both the RBZ and the police are defeating the course of justice. They have taken away our exhibits and we are left with no work to do. In future you should know that exhibits are court property and should not be disposed until the matter is finalised. The RBZ should not be used by the police to frustrate our cases here and I do not know how you should communicate this among yourselves.”
“Why are you not keen to investigate the big fish as opposed to this youthful lady? You are not interested in getting the barons. If you are after the cash barons why bring “runners” like this 24-year-old lady. If I was in your position, I would have investigated the leakage. It is clear that there is no way this woman could have possessed the cash without getting it from the RBZ. You should have the same zeal in investigating the source that you had in dealing with Mutekede’s case. I expect speed and diligence in matters of national interest like that,” said Mr Guvamombe.
Mr Guvamombe said it was apparent that the youthful Mutekede had no access to such a huge amount of cash.
“It is clear that the money came from the RBZ. The money ‘is talking to every one that it is coming from RBZ’, in view of its packaging,” said Mr Guvamombe.
The court also sought an explanation from Chief Supt Nyamupaguma why police were reluctant to probe Harare businessman Jonathan Kadzura on his alleged involvement in the case. He said the matter was still under investigation and they wanted to first complete Mutekede’s case before moving on to other people.
Mr Tapuwa Mudambanuki of Mudambanuki and Associates, who is now representing Mutekede, said his client had no access to such an amount of cash and does not qualify to be called a cash baroness.
“I appreciate that the cash is RBZ packed (sealed in the RBZ’s pre-dispatch plastic packaging) and such amounts are dispatched to meet a (bank) branch’s needs for a day. Commercial banks cannot give such a huge amount to individuals and it would be queer for a young lady like Dorothy to acquire it. The biggest amount deposited in Mutekede’s bank account was $500 million and would it not be a misnomer to call her cash baroness?”
“The RBZ Governor Dr Gideon Gono on (ZTV programme) ‘Face The Nation’ recently was visibly angry with cash barons and baronesses and there is need to get to the bottom of the case,” Mr Mudambanuki said. He attacked police for seeking to punish his client and leaving culprits who were hoarding cash.
“You should have done your work with due diligence. It’s a gross miscarriage of justice to seek to punish this innocent lady for being used as a conduit of cash barons who have access to large sums of money from the RBZ,” said Mr Mudambanuki.
He said his client was being prejudiced as the police applied the law selectively.
“It cannot be possible that she has access to $10 billion from the RBZ. We want to know the truth of this matter because it has an impact on her moral blameworthiness in this case.”
Asked why Mutekede was temporarily released on Saturday night and then rearrested on Sunday afternoon, Chief Supt Nyamupaguma said the arresting detail — a sergeant — thought the case was clearcut since Mutekede had admitted to the charge.
“The arresting detail thought the case was a straightforward one and that there was no need to detain her since she was pleading guilty. He briefed me the following morning and Mutekede was rearrested,” said Chief Supt Nyamupaguma.
In his evidence, Mr Chiremba said when the money was brought to the central bank, it was deposited into a cash detention account, where it could be released by way of a court order. He explained that it would be put into the system but if the police needed it, it would be released to them in the form of a cheque or through a transfer.
Under cross-examination, Mr Chiremba said the serial numbers of the $500 000 new bearer cheques were not recorded and its origin could not be traced.
“If police seize money, they can bank with us and it is treated like any other normal cash deposit in the cash detention account. If they want their money back, they will get it through a transfer or cheque payment. We did not serialise the money at the bank and the source cannot be easily traced,” he said.
Mr Guvamombe warned the RBZ against being used by the police to frustrate matters before the courts. “You should sit down and revisit the cash detention facility because in this case you have destroyed the exhibit. You have handicapped us and we do not know whether that was deliberate or a mistake and I am left baffled,” he said.
After the testimonies by Kadzura, Chief Supt Nyamupaguma and Mr Chiremba, Mr Guvamombe excused Kadzura and said the court would call him if the need arises.
Prosecutor Mr Zvekare argued that Mutekede’s case was now confusing as she initially pleaded guilty to illegally dealing in foreign currency but later shifted goalposts saying Kadzura had given her the $10 billion to source foreign currency for him on the black market.
Mutekede was remanded in custody to Monday for sentence. Earlier, Kadzura had told the court that Mutekede was his “casual intimate girlfriend” of seven months but denied he gave her the said $10 billion. He said he did not know anything about the money and was not aware why Mutekede implicated him.
He initially said Mutekede was just an “acquaintance,” but after further probing by prosecutor Mr Tawanda Zvekare, Kadzura told the court that she was actually his girlfriend but could not disclose the occasions they became intimate.
“She (Mutekede) was my casual girlfriend and I cannot disclose the number of times I took her to bed. It was difficult for me to firstly say she is my girlfriend because I did not see her regularly. If you do not see each other for months, it becomes difficult to safely say she is your girlfriend. Our relationship started about six to seven months ago and in that period I met her on not more than eight occasions.
“I used to visit her at Roadport (a Harare terminus for trans-border buses) but she would only come to my car and we would talk for about two to three minutes. I would go there about once or twice per week although I am no longer very sure of the frequencies,” he said.
Kadzura said he was neither an RBZ employee nor did he have any links at the central bank to facilitate the release of such an amount of money. “I am not a permanent employee of the RBZ and I am not even on the board. I am not even an advisor to the bank and the police in their papers lied. Some may mistake me for an advisor by merely being an economist,” he said.
Kadzura sat on an RBZ advisory panel which was dissolved in January this year. He admitted that he was aware of Mutekede’s illegal foreign currency dealings saying he even advised her on several occasions to shun criminal life. He denied having communicated with Mutekede after her arrest saying the messages purportedly sent to him by Mutekede never reached him.
Mutekede tendered her mobile phone to the court which showed five text messages she sent Kadzura after her arrest and two blank messages purportedly from him.
The phone had the following messages: “call,” “call urgently,” “Hillside Police,” “I am in trouble” and “Jonathan in trouble I need your help.”
In her statement read in court, Mutekede also claimed that she lied to Kadzura that one of her clients, Mohammed Mussa, had offered $20 billion in $200 000 bearer cheques to source foreign currency. She said this was to entice Kadzura to give her the $10 billion to source foreign currency for him.
Kadzura denied having received the said phone messages until the court adjourned to consult Mutekede’s cellular phone service provider, Econet, to verify her claims.
Econet could not provide proof of the messages she sent and received saying it required about two months to trace. But Econet did provide the court with a print out of calls made by Mutekede and it was stated that Mutekede phoned Kadzura on 16 occasions in one-and-a-half hours while she was in police custody on December 23 although Kadzura insisted that he did not communicate with her.
He said he was avoiding answering Mutekede’s calls after learning that she had been arrested. He further averred that his children had access to his phone and Mutekede might have talked to the kids when she phoned.
Mr Guvamombe said the evidence from Econet showed there was communication between the two.
One could take a long time peeling this story like an onion, it has so many juicy, pungent layers.
First of all, it is unprecedented for an arm of the system to openly call into question the integrity of the RBZ as magistrate Guvamombe did. Particularly under its current governor Gideon Gono, the RBZ has been portrayed as the country’s best hope of overcoming hyper-inflation and its many other problems. There almost seemed to be an official campaign to cast Gono as a super-hero who could work miracles, particularly in the state media.
Clearly all that has changed. It is a damning statement for the magistrate presiding over the case of the so-called “cash baroness” to openly say, “It is clear that the money came from the RBZ. The money ‘is talking to every one that it is coming from RBZ’, in view of its packaging.”
In whatever way the RBZ would explain it if Guvamombe’s suggestion on the cash baroness’ source of the Z$10 billion were true, it puts the central bank in an awkward position. It implies that the central bank is very much a part of the “illegal” street foreign currency market, as has been whispered for years. Having to source scarce forex from the street because of the official system’s unattractive fixed exchange rates is inevitable. Yet the RBZ has been crusading against the same market it is accused of being the biggest client of. Gono’s RBZ has always managed to be accuser and finger-pointer, but now more individuals and sectors are openly doing their share of pointing fingers at the once seemingly untouchable Gono and the RBZ.
And indeed, the failure by the RBZ and the police to ensure they had the serial numbers of the exhibit on which their whole case against the “cash baroness” rests stretched credulity. It inevitably causes one to ponder, like the magistrate did, whether this was a “mistake” as the quoted police commissioner claimed, or whether it points to something more sinister.
The pointed barbs of both the magistrate and the defense lawyer about the seeming reluctance of the RBZ and the police to vigorously pursue the real big guns who have access to huge sums of currency while the ordinary folk cannot withdraw small amounts from their own bank accounts are also telling. These open suggestions of the once-revered RBZ being involved in a cover up are unprecedented. They show the extent of the change in public perception of Gono and the RBZ in recent times. It has become obvious to a once unrealistically hopeful public that the problems it hoped Gono could magic-wand away are far deeper than can be dealt with by the RBZ without a wholesale change in the country’s entire system of doing things.
The involvement of Kadzura in Mutekede’s situation was strangely not pursued vigourously by the RBZ or the police. Even the magistrate seemed to contradict his own expressed sentiments about following cases to wherever the leads suggested. The Herald story suggests that Kadzura has far more interesting information to reveal than the investigation or judicial processes have sought to find out.
So the exhibit money has disappeared back into circulation in a way that it cannot be traced. The accused increasingly appears as merely a small cog in a much bigger machine. An apparently key accomplice of the accused is surprisingly given a lot of room and time to cover his tracks. The RBZ has been splashed with a lot of mud which it will be very difficult to clean itself of.
We may never get to the bottom of this particular case, but enough has been revealed to confirm the suspicion of many Zimbabweans that the rot and cynicism of the system runs very high and very deep.