Kingpins of murky US$40m ZEC deal emerge

OWEN GAGARE

The kingpins of the murky US$40 million Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) deal in which flamboyant businessman Wicknell Chivayo is voraciously feasting have now been exposed through further investigations by The NewsHawks and documents.

Investigations show that the deal was put together by Moses Mpofu — previously involved in Zec tenders — Mike Chimombe, a Zanu PF activist and empowerment lobbyist, Chivayo, a leading tenderpreneur, and gold baron Pedzai “Scott” Sakupwanya in February 2023.

Kingpins of the murky USD$40million ZEC deal, Moses Mpofu, Wicknell Chivhayo, Mike Chimombe and Pedzai Sakupwanya

Chivayo and Sakupwanya are close to President Emmerson Mnangagwa. An agreement was struck to participate in Zec tenders for the supply of biometric voter registration kits and other voting materials.

The first tender was for US$40 million, but there were others, which means more money was spent.

This tender was in two phases: the first for about US$20 million and then the balance later. In terms of the agreement signed between Better Brands Security (Pvt) Ltd and RenForm, obtained by The NewsHawks some months back, the advance payment was US$19 957 301 (about US$20 million).

That was 50% of the contract value. This means the closed tender, which was selective or restricted, given to Chivayo and others without a competitive bidding process and transparency on account of time limits for the polls, patronage and corruption, was worth US$39 914 602 — about US$40 million.

Invoices were inflated by up to 235% for rent-seeking purposes and paying the parties involved, rewards and bribes.

The deal was approved by the Office of the President and Cabinet, drawing in Mnangagwa, evidence gathered shows. To pull it off, the businessmen needed Zec officials to cooperate.

This meant Zec chairperson Priscilla Chigumba had to be roped in and she got involved. She was part of the negotiators.

The Office of the President and Cabinet was also involved through Chief Secretary Martin Rushwaya and other bureaucratic functionaries. Rushwaya was the point man in the Office of the President.

At Zec, the contact person was chief elections officer Utloile Silaigwana, although Chigumba handled the negotiations. For the deal to pass security checks, it had to be cleared by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) whose director-general is Isaac Moyo.

“The architects of the deal were Mpofu, Chimombe, Chivayo and Sakupwanya who then roped in officials from Zec whom they always worked with before and the Office of the President and Cabinet, including Chigumba and Rushwaya respectively to play different roles,” a source said.

“Moyo was important for them to keep on-side the CIO as the deal could be blocked on security grounds. Several tenders usually fail when CIO intervene, so all pieces of the puzzle had to be in place. “

The contractor was RenForm from South Africa and its partner was Sakupwanya’s company Better Brands Security (Pvt) Ltd, which is a subsidiary of the Better Brands group.

“Sakupwanya was involved at the initial stages, but pulled out when it appeared there were some misunderstandings. That left Chivayo with Mpofu and Chimombe in, although they were to later fall out over payments. They say they are owed 25% of the total payments made so far or US$10 million.”

This is the bone of contention at the moment.

Chivayo is refusing to pay, saying he does not want to be disturbed while eating.

He says his bitter colleagues are making too much noise, not realising he has now become 10 times or 20 times richer.

Chivayo says the noise is unnecessary as more payments, deals and tenders are coming, for instance at police and immigration. He even suggests they take advantage of the current drought to get a supply tender and make money.

Chivayo says he has now captured Mnangagwa, making things easy.

Ren-Form chief executive off icer Thomas Michael Du Sart signed the agreement on behalf of his company as the contractor, while Everson Chatambudza signed on behalf of Better Brands, referred to as the partner.

The parties agreed that Better Brands would remain in the shadows as it would engage the electoral body behind-thescenes, with Ren-Form formally engaging Zec openly, but in the process factoring in hidden individuals and costs, thus inflating the prices by up to 235%.

Ren-Form, which supplies electoral materials, was established in South Africa in 1989. It describes itself as an integrated security printing, communications and technology solutions provider.

Ren-Form provides secure printing to governments, examination boards and electoral commissions across the African continent. It has participated in almost 70 elections in the last 20 years, providing ballot paper and other electoral solutions including biometric voter registration devices.

Ren-Form was expected to supply, install, conduct training and provide support for a suitable solution that would meet Zec’s needs. Better Brands was representing Mpofu, Chimombe, Chivayo and Sakupwanya initially, before the agreement was later changed at Chivayo’s behest, sparking off the fierce fight with his partners.

A local address, No. 72 Cambridge Drive, Greendale, Harare, was used for Better Brands Security in the agreement, but for payments it was agreed the money would be deposited into an FNB Bank account No. 63039713525, Sandton branch, South Africa, which is under Better Brands Security (Pty) Ltd, a South African-registered entity. Ren-Form’s bank account was domiciled at Standard Bank (account number 002742659), Southdale Branch, Johannesburg.

Items needed by Zec included information technology hardware, software, and peripherals, power supplies such as generators and solar panels, and communication gadgets. In this case, the agreement specifically focused on biometric voter registration kits and any other voting materials that were needed.

The 13 February 2023 agreement was to partner with RenForm to participate in tenders in Zimbabwe for election materials, creating scope for different contracts.

This was done after a meeting between Mpofu, Chivayo and Chigumba held at Ren-Form offices in Johannesburg on the 2 February 2023.

Mpofu and Chimombe accuse Ren-Form of conspiring with Chivayo, unilaterally changing the contract to his company, CIO director-general Isaac Moyo ZEC chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba Intratrek Zimbabwe Pvt Ltd.

In a letter dated 24 April 2024 to Ren-Form executive Angus Carlaw, Mpofu and Chimombe wrote:

“Our agreement stated that you would pay our agreed commission into the FNB account for Better Brands.

“However, for reasons known to you, you decided to cancel our agreement without the consent of both parties.

“The cancellation of that agreement was fraudulently done. We have attempted to engage with you on several times, but you have chosen to continue making payments to Mr. Wicknell Chivayo.”

Mpofu and Chimombe were writing the letter to demand settlement of the dispute and payment.

“In this letter, we are writing to you in confidence to find a settlement. We will attach some of the proof of payments from the Zimbabwe government Treasury department.

“We have the invoice you have charged ZEC and are aware of the profits being made. For example, we are in possession of the initial quotation dated the 20th of February 2023, valued at US$2,673,360.00 with quotation no. Q20022023_211.

“Additionally, we have the subsequent quotation that you sent to Zec, with the value inflated to US$8,964,603.80, which is approximately a 235% increment.

“We are aware that as soon as funds are received into your Standard Bank account number 002742659 held at Southdale Branch, you immediately transfer more than 66% of the money received to Wicknell Chivayo’s Intratrek bank accounts.

“This is clear evidence of your participation in money laundering, where you are overcharging the Government of Zimbabwe and sending the overcharged money to individual accounts. This is in violation of South African laws and international laws.

“Please be advised that most of the individuals involved in this money laundering are on the US Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctions list. Therefore, you are assisting sanctioned individuals to hide money, which is a very serious offense. If this comes to light with the Department of the US Treasury, you will be in serious trouble.

“The Reserve Bank of South Africa will sanction you if they become aware of your illicit activities.”

A memorandum of agreement signed by the parties shows that it was resolved Ren-Form would charge market rates, while Better Brands Security would put mark-ups, inflating the prices through extra fees and commissions to maximise profit and raise enough money to pay hidden parties and individuals.

“The contractor will act as the prime contractor and will prepare and submit the proposal. The contractor will be the point of the contact to the customer and will own the overall customer relationship and satisfaction,” the agreement says.

“The contractor shall offer the best available pricing to the partner, which is market related, and the partner shall be entitled to add a mark-up and/or service fees and/or commission as applicable to the pricing provided and which the contractor shall present to Zec.

“An addendum to this agreement shall be created by the contractor for each bid to Zec, detailing the pricing and all the commissions, fees and markups payable by the contractor to the partner and shall be signed by the parties.

“The proposal will be prepared by the contractor who will designate a representative and will act as the leader for the proposal.

“The partner agrees to provide the necessary liaison effort with the Zec to allow the contractor to draft and write the proposal that describes the requirements and provides the necessary solution for Zec and thus to submit the most responsible proposal practicable.”

The agreement itself shows Better Brands Security’s role is shadowy, suggesting an intention for corruption.

There is inherently mens rea — criminal intent or guilty mind — in the agreement and hidden clauses.

Investigations by The NewsHawks show that the Zec deal had hidden parties, high-profile individuals, and costs in it.

A number of names of top government officials and Zec executives surfaced as the corporate veil covering hidden beneficiaries was pierced.

There was also name-dropping, with Mnangagwa’s name cropping up as Chivayo and others suggest he was involved, either telling the truth or leveraging his stature and public off ice to secure the deal and the money.

Investigations also show the true parties involved were not fully disclosed or were hidden behind shell companies, intermediaries and in the shadows.

So, the actual costs or terms of the agreement were not transparent; concealed from some officials of the contracting authority — Zec — or other stakeholders in government and non-state actors.

This lack of transparency in the Zec deal inevitably led to corruption and bribery, conflict of interest, overpricing or inflated costs, uncompetitive tendering, breach of procurement regulations, fraud, collusion, lack of accountability, and money laundering or other illicit activities.

The Zec deal — a gigantic feast for Chivayo — is all those things or acts of malfeasance rolled in one.

Chivayo has dismissed Chimombe and Mpofu’s demand for payment as extortion.

Chigumba, through Zec, said she did not want to “breathe life to fiction”.

Chimombe and Mpofu repeatedly ignored calls and messages from The NewsHawks.

Efforts to get comment from Rushwaya and Moyo were unsuccessful.

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 0