Lobels Bread in Bulawayo has barred its employees from using cellphones within the factory in what sources say is a desperate attempt to cover up what they say could be a massive scandal involving money laundering, theft from the company and externalisation.
Police have confirmed that the company, which will be represented by the Human Resources Manager, Roy Gwatidzo, will appear in court on June 15 for the externalisation of $23 billion.
Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said the charges arose from the importation of slicing machines and other equipment from Britain. He said the company paid the local equivalent to the suppliers directly in contravention of the Exchange Control Act.
Sources, however, say the amount externalised could be as high as US$23 million, about $4.6 trillion at current market rates. This is more than the 2006 budget for the Ministry of Defence, the third highest allocation after education and health.
Those close to the case are also puzzled how the company could have paid for the equipment to a British company in local currency. But they are more worried that because of the amounts involved investigations could be thwarted by some police officers that they claim have been bribed by the people involved.
“Police officers now know how the court system operates. So when they have been bribed, they present evidence which they know prosecutors will not accept. Once the prosecutors have returned the docket for further investigation, they close the docket claiming that the state has refused to prosecute and that’s the end of the case,” a source said.
The Lobels case unravelled soon after a former bookkeeper with the company resigned on April 24. The former bookkeeper, who had been complaining from last year that he was not comfortable with posting entries into his books when there were no supporting documents, was arrested two days later for allegedly stealing about $2 billion.
He had, however, written a document detailing what was happening at the company including gross misrepresentations like the company claiming to have bought flour when it had bought a house.
He said the main culprits were the finance manager Monica Matanhire and the managing director Ngoni Mazango.
In a desperate attempt to gag the former bookkeeper, Gwatidzo wrote a memo on April 28 notifying all employees that they were no longer allowed to use cellphones in the factory. The ban was with effect from 26 April.
“This measure,” the memo said, “is intended to ensure maximum security for the business whilst guaranteeing maximum attention to duty and productivity by all employees.”
Workers were baffled by the memo as the company had just bought cellphones for some of them.
Lobels chief executive officer Burombo Mudumo, who is based in Harare, said he was not aware of the memo but was aware of the wild allegations by an employee who, he said, had been fired for stealing.
He said the employee had circulated his document to all “levels of authority” but investigations had so far revealed that everything that the management in Bulawayo had done was above board.
Mudumo said, as the CEO, he had sanctioned some of the transactions that were made by the management in Bulawayo, including the purchasing of a second plant for the bakery.
“We have been paying for this plant for nearly two years now. This is a major investment that will create 200 jobs in Bulawayo. Are you going to write a story based on something from a petty thief?” he asked.
Gwatidzo has so far refused to return calls to clarify whether the bookkeeper resigned or was fired, but a document he wrote on May 10, clearly states that the bookkeeper resigned on April 19 but was going to terminate his services on April 24.
And contrary to Mudumo’s claims, Bvudzijena said on Tuesday police were still investigating allegations that Matanhire and Mazango had stolen money from the company.
“The investigations against Mazango also include the possible importation of four vehicles from South Africa,” Bvudzijena said.
Lobels Bread was purchased by a consortium of indigenous business people who included Herbert Nkala, Livingstone Gwata, Freddy Matanda and retired brigadier David Chiweza, in 2003. Both Mudumo and Mazango are also directors of the company.
The Bulawayo bakery was officially commissioned in February last year by central bank governor Gideon Gono. The central bank funded the setting up of the bakery under its public sector facility programme.