PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s advisor and Sakunda Holdings boss Kuda Tagwirei, whose tentacles stretch across a vast spectrum of the economy, has been acquiring buses for Zupco’s public transportation system through his investment vehicle Landela Investments in a murky arrangement with the government, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
Landela was one of five companies whose accounts were frozen by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) in September last year as the central bank battled to suppress illegal foreign currency trading on the parallel market, before the suspension was lifted under a cloud.
In a notice to banks, the RBZ announced it had frozen the accounts of Bill Height Investments, Landela, Rimosa Trading, Fossil Agro and Traverze Travel. Three of the companies, namely Landela, Rimosa Trading and Fossil Agro, are linked to Tagwirei.
Landela is a subsidiary of commodity trading firm Sotic International Ltd, through which Tagwirei acquired shares in Russian-Zimbabwean platinum joint venture, Great Dyke Investments.
It has emerged that it is, in fact, Landela, and not the government, which is behind the procurement of buses for Zupco’s public transportation system.
A three-month investigation by the Independent revealed that a total of 125 buses purportedly acquired by Zupco, some of which were commissioned by Mnangagwa in November, were actually bought by Landela.
Forty-nine of the 65 buses whose arrival into the country was celebrated by government officials amid pomp and fanfare this month, were acquired by Landela and bonded at the FAW warehouse in Msasa due to outstanding import duty.
The other 26 were imported from Chinese firm Xiamen Golden Dragon by the Public Service Commission.
Official government documents seen by the Independent further indicate that of the 76 buses commissioned by Mnangagwa in Bulawayo in November last year, were part of the 125 acquired by Landela.
Sixty-six of the buses were acquired from the Dragon Bus Company in China while 10 were imported from South Africa.
It was not immediately clear whether the Zupco funding was modelled along the Command Agriculture model, considering that the government has given the impression it was buying the buses on its own.
Tagwirei also enjoys significant market share in the fuel industry through his company Sakunda Holdings.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube disclosed late last year that government was coughing up ZW$40 million every month in fuel subsidies for the Zupco buses and other expenses arising from financing the public transport system.
In a bid to ease public transport woes, which worsened when the fuel shortage set in, government resuscitated Zupco. Reviving the embattled parastatal was also dependent on the acquisition of buses for the company.
The Dragon buses have a 64-passenger capacity, including the driver and each bus costs US$58 900.
The Independent has also learnt that Landela paid only 20% for the imported buses with the 80% balance payable a year after delivery.
The buses were bought through a dealer, FAW Zimbabwe, which has offices in Harare.
In a letter to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) dated March 2, 2020, Massbreed Investments (Pvt) Ltd, which trades as FAW Zimbabwe, names the importer of the buses as Landela.
“We are aware that the vehicles are to be warehoused in our bonded warehouse in conformity with the Customs and Excise Regulations Section 69:2A regarding the operation of bonded warehouses,” a letter by FAW director Kuda Muzvongi to the Zimra controller read.
“Undertake to return signed proprietor’s report (Form 26), acknowledgement receipt of goods together with any discrepancies within five days of the date of the entry to the proper officer at the warehousing port.”
Mnangagwa has been going around the world, and in some instances with Tagwirei, with government boasting he struck various deals, including bus purchase agreements with China and Belarus, but the deals have turned out to be shrouded in controversy.
The fleet is part of a consignment of 1 000 buses ordered from China and 500 from Belarus.
Contacted for comment, Zupco chief executive Evaristo Madangwa said the state-owned transport company had not partnered with Landela.
“Those buses are Zupco buses and we do not know any Landela. Who is that? The issues of branding are a matter of costs and we are working on that,” Madangwa said.
In January this year, Mnangagwa went on a Eurasian trip which included Russia and Belarus with government officials and Tagwirei.
In an October 31, 2019, state media reported that the 66 buses from China were a product of agreements signed during Mnangagwa’s visit to China.
According the state report, border authorities said the buses were shipped in via Durban South Africa from China.
These buses are an addition to the 86 Zupco buses commissioned by Mnangagwa between April and August last year, as government continues to build a safe and reliable transport system.
By late last year, officials said Zupco had increased its fleet to 500 conventional buses, comprising its own vehicles and those using its franchise, as well as 383 commuter minibuses.
Tagwirei has been linked to a number of other projects in the country.
Through Landela Mining Venture, he, last year bought a 50% stake in the US$4 billion Great Dyke Investments (GDI) platinum project following the departure of the Zimbabwe National Army.
In a statement issued by GDI last year, the company developing the mine announced that Landela and Afromet JSC now have equal 50% stakes in the project. Afromet JSC is 100%-owned by Russia’s investment and industrial group Vi Holding, which has spearheaded the Darwendale project since its inception in 2013.
He also bought a major stake in BNC after the departure of ASA through International Ltd, which owns Zimbabwe’s Landela Mining Venture.
Landela Mining Venture is part of a large multinational commodity trading group, Sotic International Ltd, with business interests in minerals and oil trade across the Sadc region and Zimbabwe.
Though incorporated at the Companies Registry, efforts by the Independent to access Landela’s registration documents were fruitless as the file is said to be missing.
Tagwirei was not answering calls on his mobile phone yesterday neither did he respond to messages on WhatsApp.
Tagwirei, through his company Sakunda, was also heavily involved in the Command Agriculture scheme where close to US$3 billion in public funds has not been properly accounted for as exposed by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s 2018 report.
Government initially said Sakunda was financing the scheme that began in 2016, but it later turned out it was largely taxpayer-funded.
Mnangagwa, who was vice-president in 2016, was tasked with implementing the controversial programme and his close allies were the main beneficiaries.
Senior officials from the Lands and Agriculture ministry, namely permanent secretary Ringson Chitsiko and the ministry’s finance director Peter Mudzamiri, revealed that the US$3 billion cited in Chiri’s 2018 report never reached the ministry. Records showing how the funds were utilised are also not available.
The two officials in July last year told the Public Accounts Committee that the US$3 billion was never documented and hence cannot be accounted for. The funding disappeared through the system and the authorities were clueless on how the money was used.
However, Sakunda chief operations officer Charles Chitambo, appearing before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee two weeks ago, denied the company abused any funds saying it only received US$1,010 billion between June 2016 and May 2019 for the command agriculture programme and not US$3 billion.
He also denied state capture allegations saying: “At Sakunda, we do not feel that we have captured the state. We only feel that we have used our best skills to respond to a national request to revamp the grain situation in this country. We believe we responded to the list of suppliers used by the Agriculture ministry and worked within the price parameters. One does not capture the state, but they do the best they can to address the challenges.”