EDITORIAL COMMENT: People who stash cash, gold must be punished

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The seizure by police of US$4 million cash and 98kg of gold in Harare on Thursday is probably the biggest in the country’s history.

As we report elsewhere today, five suspects who had the treasure stowed in suitcases, were arrested in connection with the case. It is believed that the quintet was plotting to spirit the money and gold out of the country. The unnamed suspects were allegedly illegal gold dealers operating from a property in leafy Borrowdale. The money which has been confiscated comprised US$100, US$50, US$20 and US$10 notes neatly tied together and forming mounds on the desk.

“The Zimbabwe Republic Police is still verifying the origins of the 98kg of gold and cash which were recovered at a certain company’s premises in Borrowdale on 5th July 2018,” said police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi.

“Investigations are being conducted in consultation with other relevant State institutions such as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and Fidelity Printers. The gold and cash have since been secured by monetary authorities in the country.”

This is the latest in a string of cases involving suspect possession of cash and gold. The Government has been battling to recover about $1,4 billion that was externalised over the past few years. At the last count, $850 million had been repatriated. In addition, for many years, some unscrupulous people have been smuggling gold to South Africa. These crimes pose very devastating consequences to the economy which is already struggling.

In August last year, police arrested three Bulawayo businesspeople on allegations of externalising over $7,3 million to Botswana. Delny Deanna Ashley (41), Farid Shahadat (45) and Ryan Gregory Joseph (29) were wanted for contravening Section 8(1) paragraph (b) of the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act, Chapter 9:24.

The latest seizure, as others of similar nature before it, is of much public interest in view of the prevailing economic challenges.  The economy is severely short of foreign currency to finance the importation of critical products such as medical drugs, electricity, fuel and some foodstuffs like wheat.

Also, the Government is struggling to build a large enough stock of gold. That gold bank, if it rises to a certain level, coupled with positive developments in the whole economy, would inform the Government whether to take a decision to re-introduce a local currency or not.

How then can the Reserve Bank succeed in ensuring adequate liquidity on the market when just five people can mobilise as much as US$4 million and keep it in their office or when three people externalise as much as $7,3 million?

We are delighted that the Borrowdale five have been arrested and their riches seized.  We therefore look forward to thorough investigations being carried out to establish the facts around the suspicious possession of so much money and so much gold. We expect investigators to dig deeper and find out the sort of business the five are into to the extent that they can raise and keep so much money — in US$ — and 98kg of gold in bags on them.

If law enforcement agents do establish a solid case against them — which we hope they will — they must be punished severely and suffer the loss they invited to themselves.

Yes, we acknowledge that everyone is innocent until proven guilty by a competent court, but the laws of the country do not allow possession of so much money in one’s company safe. We have several banks into which money must be deposited so that it circulates in the economy for the betterment of everyone.  As some people keep large sums of money in suitcases, others spend chilly days queueing at banks to withdraw as little as $30 per day or actually failing to withdraw anything. Therefore, why did the suspects not follow the law by depositing the money in banks?

At the same time, one’s home or office is not a Fidelity Printers and Refiners vault where large amounts of gold like what was seized in Borrowdale on Thursday, is kept.  All gold, especially if it is as much as 98kg, must, in terms of the law, be kept at  Fidelity.

If the five are licensed agents of Fidelity or legitimate gold miners why did they not deliver it to the relevant offices on time before they raised the suspicions of people who then tipped off the police to inquire on them?

We don’t have all the information yet, but the whole story points to something fishy.

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