Zimbabwe Miners Federation president Henrietta Rushwaya, who is facing charges of attempting to smuggle 6kg of gold out of the country, was yesterday remanded in custody with a Harare magistrate ruling on her bail application today.
Rushwaya, who is related to President Emmerson Mnangagwa as well as the Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration and Finance in his office, Martin Rushwaya, allegedly tried to smuggle 14 bars of gold on a flight to Dubai.
Airport scanners at Harare on Monday picked up the 6kg of gold valued at US$333 000.
Steven Tserayi, one of the president’s long-term aides, was detained with her, according to local reports, and has been sacked by the president, but not arrested.
The scandal has highlighted Zimbabwe’s murky gold sector which, analysts claim, has drawn “untouchable” members of its political elite into smuggling cartels, costing the bankrupt state millions of pounds.
It also heaps yet more personal embarrassment on Mnangagwa, whose son Collins is linked to the Drax International scandal.
Ms Rushwaya, 53, who appeared in court yesterday charged with smuggling, allegedly told officers she was acting as a mule for a licensed dealer in Harare called Ali Japan and was due to hand the gold to “an unidentified person” in Dubai. The gold did not have the paperwork required for its export.
Political analysts said the arrest of Ms Rushwaya was possibly the latest salvo in a power struggle within the ruling party.
A detective who is stationed at Robert Mugabe International Airport said that well-connected travellers often turned up with treasures to smuggle abroad. “You can receive a phone call from these big people ordering you not to search their bags when they come through,” he told the Mail & Guardian.
Grace Mugabe, the widow of the late president, and Joyce Mujuru, his vice-president, have both been linked to smuggling gold and diamonds worth millions of pounds. No charges have been brought and both have denied any wrongdoing.
Ms Rushwaya’s association of small-scale miners produces more gold than large-scale operations. The collapse of commercial agriculture, once the country’s largest employer, has pushed thousands of people into illegal mining with their finds being sold to black-market middlemen and often trafficked to states where prices are higher.
Police documents revealed that detectives had been tracking Ms Rushwaya after they received a tip-off. A spokesman for the government hailed the operation and said it followed warnings by Mr Mnangagwa, 78, to “those close to power to desist from wayward ways”.
The allegations are not Ms Rushwaya’s first brush with scandal. She was sacked from her role as head of Zimbabwe’s football association after it emerged that the national side was competing in obscure tournaments in Asia, north Africa and the Middle East where players and coaches were bribed to throw games.
She has not yet made a statement on the gold smuggling charges she is facing. – Additional reporting by The Times.