Zimbabwe’s escalation risks ahead of elections linked with Mnangagwa regime’s shady deals 

Source: Zimbabwe’s escalation risks ahead of elections linked with Mnangagwa regime’s shady deals – Robert Lansing Institute

Zimbabwe’s escalation risks ahead of elections linked with Mnangagwa regime’s shady deals

Zimbabwe could be hit by a wave of violence ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for August 23, 2023. The upcoming round of destabilization may be related to the simmering confrontation between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and CCC leader Nelson Chamisa. Opposition parties have already voiced their concern about a free and fair election, accusing the president of silencing dissent.

However, the opposition could play the card of the incumbent’s involvement in shady schemes allowing Russia to use Zimbabwe’s gold and platinum deposits to enrich Russian President Vladimir Putin’s entourage as Zimbabwe’s economy is seeing continued decline.

COMMUNITY-Based organizations in Manicaland province have said President Mnangagwa does not want to accept the truth that Zimbabwe is facing severe economic challenges that have left citizens hopeless and desperate for change in the country’s leadership.

Community members said they were concerned that their grievances had been falling on deaf ears, accusing Mnangagwa of failing to listen to concerns raised by citizens.

Weston Makoni, who is the Penhalonga Residents and Ratepayers Trust chairperson questioned why there were no control measures in place for leakages of gold.

He claimed, there are unsafe mining practices done by small-scale and artisanal miners. They have made the area an environmental eyesore as visibly abandoned mining pits are seen everywhere even on roads, posing a danger not only to people but also to their livestock that is often trapped into these gullies.

Russian and Belarusian companies operate in the area, but community benefit has been the least of the concerns of the companies as well as the government where the investment deals are made a secret violating the principles of transparency and accountability.

The residents called on Mnangagwa to listen to the concerns of the residents and solve the mess in Penhalonga that has seen gold worth millions of US dollars siphoned through well-orchestrated syndicates.

Russian and Belarusian firms extracting gold from the Zimbabwean deposits, given into concession by the Mnangagwa regime, fail to observe safety rules in mining operations, which leads to the deaths among the local population. For example, back in August 2016, an illegal gold panner died while mining at the Russian-owned DTZ-OZGEO concession in Penhalonga, near Mutare. The police said that such tragedies were on the increase in the area.

DTZ-OZGEO, a joint venture set up by Russia’s Zarubezhgeologiya OJSC (OZGEO) and the Development Trust of Zimbabwe (DTZ), won a concession for diamond mining in the Chimanimani area and gold mining in the Penhalonga area. This was a corruption-laden scheme serving as a bonus for Moscow’s help in helping Mnangagwa win the presidential election.

According to our sources in Moscow, the Zimbabwean authorities had Russia secretly produce tailored ballot papers with voting marks already inscribed on them. These ballots were delivered to Harare Airport by the Rossiya State Air Squadron, the unit normally flying Russian leaders around the world.

On the eve of the vote, main opposition candidate Nelson Chamiza publicly claimed that the Russians had sided with the ruling ZANU-PF party to “rig” the vote. According to the opposition, one of the suburbs of Harare housed Russian political advisors who worked for the party in power and its presidential pickj Mnangagwa. According to our estimates, these were opeatives affiliated with the notorious Wagner Group and Russia’s military intelligence.

In November 2020, at least two miners died in a gold mine at a deposit in the Mutasa Manikaland area, which is owned by Zim Goldfields, 70% of which is owned by Sergey Sheiman and Alexander Zingman through a network of fictitious firms. Sergei Sheiman is the son of Viktor Sheiman, who is part of Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko’s close entourage, who formerly managed his office. Alexander Zingman is a key businessman in charge of Belarus’s relations with Zimbabwe. He is also the Honorary Consul of Zimbabwe in Belarus.

Sergey Sheiman

Meanwhile, secret services in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alleged that Zingman was in fact an arms dealer. In March 2021, he was detained in the Congo for 12 days before being released with no charges pressed. Nigeria’s independent outlet Vanguard posted a report claiming that Belarusian gold mining projects in Zimbabwe were indirectly financing the war in Ukraine. Russia has also been using arms deals to secure access to Africa’s natural resources. Russia evades arms embargo on Zimbabwe, in place of Zanu PF’s undermining democracy and violating human rights.

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Meanwhile, Wagner Group has been implicated in illicit gold mining dealings in Zimbabwe. Russian mercenaries have been involved in a number of mining projects, including the extraction of diamonds from the Marange fields. The U.S. Treasury Department’s report has raised concerns about Wagner Group’s activities in Zimbabwe

Wagner also mines gold under the same schemes in a number of other African countries, including Mali, CAR and Sudan.

The Sudanese authorities accused a Russian citizen, security chief at the local company Al-Sawlaj, afiliated with Wagner, of smuggling gold. During an extensive inquiry, the authorities interrogated 58 Al-Sawlaj employees, most of them Russians. After the probe was completed, Sudan charged the firm’s head of security, but allowed Al-Sawlaj to continue operations. However, according to Bloomberg analysts, the investigation can be seen as a setback for Russia and its ambitions to gain a foothold in Sudan. EU authorities linked Al-Sawlaj to Meroe, a company controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin. In February, Meroe came under EU sanctions and was described as a tool used to cover up Russian operations in Sudan.

Al-Sawlaj purchased the Meroe-owned property in 2021 for almost $2 million – an indicator of a corrupt deal.

After Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny attempt in Russia, Vladimir Putin admitted that the group had in fact been financed from the Russian state budget all the way, which confirmed the assumption made by RLI analysts that Wagner Group is in fact a Russian government-run project designed to implement the Kremlin’s expeditionary missions abroad. Support for the insurrection by one of Russia’s military intelligence deputy chiefs points to Wagner’s close connection with and possible operational subordination to Russian military intelligence bodies.

The involvement of Wagner Group in operations to control the extraction of natural resources (gold, diamonds, gas, and oil) overseas indicates that Russia’s military intelligence has been entrusted with the task of exploring ways for Russia to circumvent economic sanctions and financing the budgetary, non-budgetary, and corruption-related expenditures of the Russian authorities.

According to our estimates, overseas mining allows Russia to sell its own raw materials, which are subject to international sanctions, using fake certificates of origin. Thus, under the guise of Zimbabwean gold, Russian gold can make its way to the international market. The share of gold mined in Zimbabwe is allocated for for bribes to Zimbabwe’s leadership and actors close to the Russian president.

A company affiliated with Lukashenko’s ally Viktor Sheiman and Zimbabwe’s honorary consul in Belarus Alexander Zingman is already engaged in gold mining there.

Minsk’s interest in Zimbabwe also extends to lithium mining. This topic was the main goal of Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to Zimbabwe on January 30 – February 1. Alexander Lukashenko vowed to build lithium processing plants if Zimbabwe allows lithium exports to Belarus. In 2022, all raw lithium exports from the country were banned.

After Russia unleashed a full-scale war against Ukraine, Chile and Argentina suspended deliveries of lithium to Russia, which is critically dependent on such imports. Thus, it is highly likely that Belarus is making efforts to gain access to lithium reserves in Zimbabwe in Russia’s interests.

Another important project for Russia in Zimbabwe is the Darwendale platinum deposit, developed by a joint venture of Great Dyke Investments (Pvt) Ltd. The project was brought up on the table back in March 2018 during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The volume of investments until 2055 is estimated at $2.8 billion.

Initially, in April 2014, the consortium for the field’s development included Vitaly Mashchitsky’s Vi Holding Group, Rostec (affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Defense) and Vnesheconombank. However, in the end, it was only JSC Afromet, Vi Holding’s subsidiary, that retained a share in the joint venture. The Zimbabwean participant in the Darwendale project, Pen East Investments, is affiliated with the local military leadership. According to some reports, the company is headed by Colonel Tshinga Dube, head of the military-industrial holding Zimbabwe Defense Industries, ZDI.

Thus, platinum mining in Zimbabwe is also closely coordinated by the local and Russian military leadership at a horizontal level.

Thus, with the approach of elections in Zimbabwe, the activity of Russians in the mining sector will increase accordingly. The withdrawal of profits off the sale of Zimbabwean minerals to Russia will grow as well due to the Kremlin’s fears of potentially losing control over Harare.We expect that the Kremlin will extensively meddle in Zimbabwe’s electoral. This intervention will involve political consultations and corrupt deals, as well as possible military operations against the local opposition forces.