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Midlands gold mines saga raises stink as mogul dribbles investors

News in depth BY BRENNA MATENDERE

A long-time ally of former president Robert Mugabe has been accused of grand corruption after he allegedly swindled Israeli investors in a lucrative gold mining venture in Midlands province.

High-ranking officials from different institutions have allegedly been providing protection to Tapiwa Gurupira for close to six years to ensure he is not kicked out of rich gold ore claims he grabbed from the Israeli investors in Shurugwi.

Gurupira, in 2010, entered into a partnership with investors from Israel to embark on gold mining and production in line with the indigenisation laws.

The Israeli investors have a company known as Zenit Limited Group that operates under a subsidiary called Slashwood Mining (Pvt) Limited.

Their designated agent is Avner Arazi whose physical address is listed as Minat Heyehudim 85, Herzelloia 46766, Israel.

Other Israeli directors according to the CR 6 form in the possession of this publication are Iris Weller and Roni Stadler.

Documents at hand indicate that the two parties formed a company in 2010 and registered it with Gurupira’s outfit, Ontage Mining Company, having a 10% stake.

Gurupira was appointed non-executive director in charge of operations at the mining claims.

The Israeli investors then pumped $2,6 million into the venture and the money went towards the purchase of mining claims and milling centres from Fidelity Printers and Refiners.

Between 2010 and 2012, Gurupira’s involvement in the company was marred by accusations of corruption, according to minutes of a disciplinary hearing in the possession of this publication.

The cases included misappropriation of funds channelled as further investment, gold theft, hiring of company claims to third parties without authority and abuse of company property such as vehicles.

Wayne Bamala, the disciplinary authority head, found Gurupira guilty on 10 charges and recommended that he be dismissed.

“The charges being of a serious nature, it is my finding that the employee be dismissed from Slashwood Mining (Pvt) Limited with effect from 28 September 2012,” ruled Bamala.

A board meeting was convened and it passed a resolution to implement the disciplinary hearing resolution in line with the Section 175 of the Companies Act Chapter 24:03.

A deed of settlement was entered by the two parties.

Part of the High Court deed of settlement in the possession of this publication, dated December 21, 2012 indicates that Gurupira formally broke ties with Zenit and consented to the development through his lawyers, Sande and Associates.

The Israeli investors were represented by their lawyers Matizanadzo and Warhurst.

The matter is contained in legal books under case number HC14382/12.

Part of the deed of settlement reads: “Whereas the parties have been involved in litigation in this honourable court… now therefore it is agreed as follows… the removal of the applicant as a director of Slashwood Mining (company) be and is hereby confirmed.”

Although Gurupira challenged his removal from the company, a High Court order delivered by Justice Chinembiri Bhunu on November 19, 2012 sealed his fate .
A deed of settlement that was turned into an order by the judge was signed by the two parties.

“Mr Tapiwa Gurupira or any persons acting on his behalf shall not exercise any executive, management and operational functions (at the mines).

“The deed of settlement shall be registered as an order of this honourable court.

“No variation of this deed of settlement shall be binding upon the parties unless the variation is reduced to writing and signed by the parties and the court order amended to incorporate the variation,” reads Justice Bhunu’s judgement.

Peter Valentine, a Zimbabwean, currently leads the operations of the Israeli firm, having assumed the post of MD from just a mere director, on September 20 2018, board minutes obtained by this publication show.

Valentine said Gurupira was defiant and forcefully grabbed the mines and up to now continues to run them illegally since 2013 with the authorities such as police and Mines ministry officials, among others, refusing to bring him to book or stop his operations.

He indicated that in the past six years the mines had been under Gurupira’s grab, the owners had lost over $6 million in potential revenue.

“The last figure we had during our time of production was 7kg of gold in three months,” Valentine said.

“So as an estimate, we can say the mines have been producing 28kg of gold a year.

“A kg is about $45 000, so we have lost over $6 million in potential revenue for the past six years.”

Valentine believes Gurupira has been using part of the gold proceeds from the claims to bribe bearers of top offices in the land so that he gets protection.

“The judge ordered Gurupira not to interfere with executive, management and operational functions, but he is doing exactly that,” he said.

“We have told the police, but they just ignore and are not interested.

“We have reasonable suspicion that they are getting huge bribes to cast a blind eye to the issue.”

A letter in the possession of this publication shows that on October 5, 2016, Valentine wrote to the Shurugwi officer-in-charge Minerals and Border Control Unit (MBCU) identified as Inspector Tshuma, making a formal report that Gurupira was mining illegally at Zenit Limited Group’s Slashwood mines, called Nash 1 and 2 in the district.

He also revealed that the crime was also being committed at King Cobra, which is about seven kilometres away, near Gweru.

Valentine highlighted that Gurupira was also not depositing the gold he was producing to Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) — a government company, which works under the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and is solely responsible for officially buying the metal.

He said nothing had been recorded in the company account, meaning the gold was being channelled out through the black market.

Valentine also attached a copy of the special power of attorney for the Israeli company, which he held, showing that he was the bona fide representative of the firm owning the mines that were being invaded by Gurupira.

This was meant to demonstrate to the police that the report was serious and coming from an informed individual.

He also brought to the attention of the police an order issued by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) on March 8, 2016 ordering him to stop operations due to unavailability of the Environment Impact Assessment licence.

In brief, the report was for fraud, theft of gold and violation of the EMA Act.

CID MBCU officer-in-charge, Inspector Tshuma responded to the report 19 months later — absolving Gurupira.

In a letter to Valentine dated October 29, 2017, he said “…. Reference to your report you made to the police… investigations were carried out and prosecution was denied for lack of evidence. Relevant papers are being kept at this station for further reference.”

In a related matter and in November 2016, members of the police unit in Shurugwi were accused of misappropriating 11 tonnes of gold ore that they had kept as exhibit in a case whose accused persons were cleared of the charges.

The gold ore theft case involved a five-member mining syndicate known as Masai sai, which was taken to court by one Sabastean Dzingirai, who claimed ownership of Paradox Mine at which the syndicate was conducting operations in Shurugwi.

When workers of the syndicate were arrested together with two directors, Joice Gwaringa and Jabulani Nyabanga, police confiscated 11 tonnes of gold ore they found on the site as exhibit for the case.

Due to inadequate space at Shurugwi Police Station, the ore was kept at nearby Rolly 103 Gold Mine in Shurugwi.

The owner of the mine, Brighton Gara (34), signed an indemnity form swearing that he would keep the ore safely.

When the matter went to court, members of the Masai sai syndicate were acquitted by Shurugwi resident magistrate Evia Matura after the state led by prosecutor Pride Gomera failed to convince her to convict them.

The syndicate’s operations were deemed legal.

However, the mining syndicate has failed to get back their gold ore that had been kept as exhibit by the police up to now amid revelations the police milled the ore and shared the proceeds.

Detective Constable Rovodzanayi, who was the investigating officer in the case, refused to comment in this related matter.

Shurugwi MBCU officer in charge crime Assistant Inspector Mharakurwa also refused to comment.

“Please talk to Superintended Thandabanthu, she is the one who can comment, but I am aware of the case,” he said.

When contacted for comment, Thandabanthu also refused to shed light on the matter.

Last year the syndicate approached the then Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Owen Ncube complaining about the conduct of the MBCU police.

Ncube wrote a letter addressed to the Midlands Provincial Police Officer (Propol) Assistant Commissioner Charles Ndoro urging him to ensure the mining syndicate got its ore and officers responsible for the scam be brought to book.

Nothing has happened up to date and the 12 tonnes have not been recovered.

Valentine indicates that the corruption web is big.

“I have gone to all the other higher offices of police in Midlands with this case, but still with no success. It seems there is big connivance and corruption,” he said.

According to the Firearms Act (Chapter 10:09) Section 3 Paragraph (10), it is a crime, whose sentence is a fine of $100 or an imprisonment term of up to six months, for a person to provide information they know is false in order to acquire a firearm or renew its licence.

Section 27 of the piece of legislation also criminalises discharging of a firearm in a public place without lawful cause.

However, in 2014, Gurupira falsely impressed on the police that he was an agent of Slashwood Mining Company when he had parted ways with the firm in 2012.

Using the false information, he renewed licences of seven shotguns that belonged to his former employer which he had refused to surrender upon departure.

The guns were then used by his personnel to forcefully evict Slashwood workers at a claim in Shurugwi where they were robbed of gold ore.

The case of illegal possession of firearms and robbery of the Slashwood workers was reported at Shurugwi Police Station and documented as CR36/01/18 RRB 3320727.

However, up to now Gurupira is free and no action was taken by the police.

Contacted for comment, Shurugwi MBCU officer in charge crime, Inspector Richard Marakurwa, washed his hands of the scandals, saying they happened before he was transferred to the station from Mashonaland West. He also denied receiving bribes.

“I think you have been referred to a wrong a person,” he said.

“I only came to Shurugwi in 2018 after those cases had been handled and finalised by previous members of the station.

“How could I have received a bribe when I was in Mash West? I was not there when the cases happened.”

Informed that even when he had assumed office at the station, the Israeli company had been pursuing him to act upon the cases, Marakurwa referred further questions to his boss Thandabantu.

Officials at the Midlands Mines ministry office have also been accused of abetting the corruption.

The officials have ignored repeated calls from the Israeli company for them to act on Gurupira’s case and ensure he surrenders the mines to their rightful owners.

According to the Mines and Mineral Act, all mining claims are subject to inspection at the end of every year in order to get permission to proceed with operations.

If no such inspection is done, the mining claims will get an order to cease operations from the Mines ministry officials.

The mining inspection fee is currently pegged at $100.

However, an investigation at the Mines ministry’s Gweru provincial office indicated that Gurupira had been mining on the Israeli investors’ claims from 2015 without subjecting the areas for inspection or paying the requisite fees.

A Mines ministry invoice number 001007 obtained on February 12, 2019 indicates that the amount owed for Slashwood mining claims where Gurupira is mining illegally has ballooned to $ 2 175, but no action to cease operations has been taken by the ministry.

Midlands provincial mines director Nelson Munyanduri said he was not allowed to comment on the matter.

“I am restricted from talking to the media by our code of conduct. So I do not see how I can comment on that issue,” he said.

Valentine said Munyanduri had showed bias towards Gurupira in the case.

“We have been at the ministry offices several times and they just cannot take action and stop Gurupira from mining illegally at our claims,” he said.

“Again we believe the officials there have been bribed because they can’t just not act on a simple and straightforward issue.”

Power utility, Zesa, is again implicated in the grand corruption scam.

After Gurupira had made illegal power connections into a mine owned by the Israeli on the outskirts of Gweru called Nash 1 and another called Nash 2 in Shurugwi, where he is refusing to vacate, complaints were raised by Valentine to Zesa to the effect that the parastatal was losing potential revenue due to theft of electricity.

Violation of the Electricity Act, which criminalises such conduct, is a serious offence that can lead into a lengthy jail term.

However, in a letter to Valentine dated March 20, 2019, a Zesa top official controversially absolved Gurupira of the serious crimes.

He wrote that Nash 1 mine in Gweru was indeed registered as belonging to Slashwood Mining-Company on its electricity account, but said evidence of theft of electricity could not be found because Gurupira was responsible for settling the bills and was doing so.

“We also noted that you are having ownership disputes with Mr Gurupira over the mines and as ZETDC we feel we should not be used to switch off power as a way of settling disputes about the ownership of properties,” the official wrote.

Valentine said he was shocked by such a response after the Zesa official was shown the High Court deed of settlement indicating Gurupira had been removed as director of Slashwood in 2012.

Gurupira was not forthcoming with a comment on the matter despite several attempts to get his side of the story.

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