President Robert Mugabe’s nephew Leo Mugabe was arrested on 20 October 2005 on charges of illegally exporting 30 tonnes of flour worth US$8.3 million at the official rate to Mozambique.
His lawyer Eric Matinenga said Mugabe faced three charges: fraud, smuggling, and violating Grain Marketing Board regulations.
Matinenga said the state alleged that Mugabe and his wife, through their company Fresh Breeze Ltd, defrauded the GMB out of 30 tonnes of grain.
On the second charge of smuggling, the state was claiming that the Mugabes sold the flour to businessman Passmore Chigwanda who was also arrested – who in turn exported it to Mozambique.
Matinenga dismissed the third charge, violating GMB regulations, as a nonstarter.
Mugabe joined the list of party insiders who had been arrested on various anti-corruption charges. The others were Chris Kuruneri, James Makamba and Phillip Chiyangwa.
Viewing cable 05HARARE1536, LEO MUGABE,S EXCESS PROMPTS GOVERNMENT REBUKE
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001536
AF/S FOR B. NEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
AFR/SA FOR E. LOKEN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/09/2015
SUBJECT: LEO MUGABE,S EXCESS PROMPTS GOVERNMENT REBUKE
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher Dell for reasons 1.5 b/d
¶1. (C) Robert Mugabe,s nephew Leo Mugabe on October 20 was
arrested on charges of illegally exporting 30 tons of flour.
Leo Mugabe and his wife face charges of fraud, smuggling, and
violating handling procedures of a controlled commodity —
grain. Mugabe,s lawyer told poloff the third charge was
likely to be dropped, but added that prison time for
smuggling convictions was not uncommon. Mugabe maintained
his innocence to poloff on November 8, stating that an
unconnected businessman illegally exported the grain without
his knowledge. Meanwhile, a week after the arrest the GOZ
seized a farm that Mugabe had owned for more than a decade,
charging that the agricultural land was lying idle. End
A Mugabe on Trial
¶2. (SBU) Zimbabwean police on October 20 arrested Leo Mugabe
and his wife, Veronica, for allegedly exporting 30 tons of
flour, reportedly worth more than US$8.3 million at the
official rate, to Mozambique earlier this year. The couple
spent one night in jail and then posted bail the next day.
According to an article in the independent press, this marked
the first time that Leo Mugabe (or for that matter any member
of Robert Mugabe,s family) has been arrested despite
numerous allegations of corruption and fraud against the
nephew. (N.B. More distant relatives, such as flamboyant
businessman and ex-Mashonaland West Chairman Philip
Chiyangwa, have been arrested before.)
¶3. (C) Eric Matinenga, Mugabe,s lawyer, on November 3 told
poloff that his client faces three charges: fraud, smuggling,
and violating Grain Marketing Board (GMB) regulations.
Matinenga said the state alleged that Mugabe and his wife,
through their company Fresh Breeze Ltd, defrauded the GMB out
of 30 tons of grain. Matinenga, however, contended that
Fresh Breeze regularly sourced grain for a bakery the company
had an interest in and that this instance was not unusual.
On the second charge of smuggling, the state was claiming
that the Mugabes sold the flour to businessman Passmore
Chigwanda ) who was also arrested – who in turn exported it
to Mozambique. The Mugabes had not known of the export,
however. The state alleged further that the Mugabes worked
in conjunction with Chigwanda. Matinenga dismissed the third
charge, violating GMB regulations, as a nonstarter. The GOZ
classifies grain as a strategic commodity, and requires that
all producers sell their grain to the parastatal GMB.
According to Matinenga, this regulation only applied to
farmers, not middlemen like the Mugabes.
¶4. (C) Zimbabwean law does not stipulate penalties for fraud
and smuggling charges, but Matinenga noted that prison time
for smuggling convictions was not uncommon. He added that
judges normally had a great deal of independence in
determining sentences, which were required to be made in
&the interests of society.8 As testament to the decay of
Zimbabwe,s judicial system, Matinenga noted that the trial,
if this case got that far, could go on forever.
Mugabe Claims He,s Innocent
¶5. (C) Mugabe defended himself against the smuggling charges
in a November 7 conversation with poloff. Mugabe asserted
that he and his wife routinely purchased grain from the GMB
on behalf of the bakery. This time, however, they had
purchased too much grain, so they sold the remainder to Blue
Ribbon, one of Zimbabwe,s milling companies. Mugabe claimed
that Blue Ribbon in turn sold it to Chigwanda, who then
attempted to smuggle it to Mozambique. Mugabe claimed he was
not involved in the attempted smuggling and questioned why
the police would charge him with this crime without also
arresting officials at Blue Ribbon, who were more closely
associated with Chigwanda. He vowed to fight the charges,
saying that it was important to defend the family name.
Mugabe Forced To Give Up Second Farm
¶6. (C) In a related move that suggests Leo Mugabe,s star is
waning, the state recently confiscated his Journey,s End
farm in Mashonaland West, ostensibly due to the lack of
farming activity on the property. Reportedly purchased by
Mugabe in 1993, the seizure of his farm was oddly reminiscent
of the evictions of many white farmers, albeit without the
violence and coercion. According to press accounts, his farm
was listed for acquisition in the local paper nullifying his
title to the land. He was then given only a few days to
vacate the property, during which time he was reportedly busy
tabulating the value of improvements made on the farm for
future compensation. The seizure of the Journey,s End farm
came only months after Mugabe acquired another farm in
Mashonaland West under the GOZ,s fast track land reform
program in April; to date, the state has not targeted this
farm. Mugabe dismissed the impact of the seizure when
speaking with poloff, saying that he had actually offered to
sell the land to the state several years ago to ease
overcrowding in an adjoining communal area.
¶7. (C) Leo Mugabe appeared at ease during the nearly two
hour, introductory meeting with poloff at his timber company,
Stuarts and Lloyds. Although Mugabe openly discussed such
topics as the upcoming Senatorial race and related MDC
divide, he was tight-lipped regarding internal ZANU-PF
politics and his relationship with President Mugabe.
Referring to allegations of corruption while he was chairman
of the Zimbabwe Football Association, he claimed that the
attacks were personal and that he actually poured much of his
own money into the Association out of love for the sport.
Widely viewed as the family,s black sheep, he has had a hand
in several high profile schemes that smack of corruption,
such as the inflated tender in 1999 to build a new airport in
Harare. Mugabe has three children; two boys who appeared to
be in their early 20s and a daughter who is studying in South
¶8. (C) Leo Mugabe,s recent tribulations both reflect and
will further fuel fear and loathing in the ruling party. His
arrest and squelched attempt to acquire multiple farms were
likely in large part intended as warnings to the junior
Mugabe and other political insiders in their pursuit of
excess. Much like those brought against former party
insiders Chris Kuruneri, James Makamba, and Phillip
Chiyangwa, the charges brought against Mugabe underscore the
cynical nature of anticorruption in Zimbabwe and reinforce
how uncertain the operating environment is for even the most
privileged Zimbabweans. While it is unclear who was
principally behind the measures against Mugabe, their moves
certainly had the approval of the senior Mugabe, who
regularly warns publicly that self-seeking business elites –
including unnamed relatives – within the party would not be
spared retribution for economic crimes. Interestingly, Leo
Mugabe,s sizable industrial empire appears not to have been
touched, further suggesting that this attack was meant as a
warning, not as a crippling blow. MDC contacts have noted
the back-bencher’s relative political independence in the
parliament; certainly, his agreement to meet an embassy
officer during a period of particularly acute bilateral
tensions is curious.