via Grace sucked into fuel scam – The Zimbabwe Independent March 18, 2016
FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe—through her son Russell Goreraza—has been dragged into a US$3 million fuel scam in which a local oil company is accusing a British Virgin Islands-domiciled firm of fraudulently selling its four million litres of diesel worth US$2,6 million and pocketing the money.
By Bernard Mpofu
Line Petroleum (Pvt) Ltd, a locally-registered company, is accusing Sela Energy Limited, based in Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, of irregularly selling its fuel after a dodgy arrangement with South Africa’s quasi-government entity Strategic Fuel Fund Association (SFF).
SFF controls many companies, including the Petrol, Oil and Gas Corporation of South Africa. It helped Line Petroleum to procure 10 million litres of diesel from Kuwait’s Independent Petroleum Group in May last year through a letter of credit guaranteed by Standard Bank of South Africa, parent company to Stanbic Bank.
SFF, according to documents seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, entered into a formal agreement with Line Petroleum in retrospect on January 27.
After the deal was sealed last year, Zimbabwe’s state-owned National Oil Infrastructure Company (Noic) offered fuel storage facilities to Line Petroleum at its Masasa depot in Harare. Noic management accountant Washington Gadzikwa confirmed in a letter, dated May 8, 2015, to Line Petroleum receiving and storing its fuel.
Following the supply of the fuel, Sela Energy, controlled by shady South African-based tycoon Niko Shefer — a convicted fraudster who has delved in murky mining activities in DRC and Liberia — laid claim to the fuel, saying he was part of the deal.
It is understood Shefer, working in cahoots with his local partner Lionel Mhlanga, approached Line Petroleum management indicating he had permission from then SFF chief executive Ambassador Bheki Gila to sell part of the fuel stock held by Noic.
Mhlanga, who was last week arrested on fraud charges over the deal, has close links with Grace Mugabe’s son, Russell Goreraza. Besides, Mhlanga is also reportedly close to Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi’s son Simukai.Using their alleged closeness to Grace, through her son, Mhlanga and his partner Shefer are said to have been brandishing their Gupta-style connections to refuse to compensate Line Petroleum over the embezzled fuel and the US$2,6 million proceeds.
As a result, Line Petroleum bosses reported the case to the police last week after failing to recover their fuel or money, and upon discovering Sela, Shefer and Mhlanga had no permission in the first place from SFF to sell the fuel.
As the consignee, Line Petroleum had been pressured by Shefer to release a total of four million litres of diesel worth US$2,6 million to Sela for distribution, claiming he had SFF and Gila’s permission to take over the fuel.
Before an agreement was signed between SFF and Line Petroleum, the South African entity had sent a team to Zimbabwe to carry out a due diligence exercise to establish if Line Petroleum had the capacity to become the consignee.
Shefer approached Line Petroleum in August last year, claiming he was an interested party in the deal, with the blessings of SFF and Gila. As a result, Shefer and Mhlanga took control of the fuel and sold the four million litres, pocketing US$2,6 million.
Shefer’s shenanigans were exposed when a new SFF chief executive Sibusiso Gamede came in to replace Gila. A meeting was held on October 19, 2015 in Harare to discuss the situation and SFF demanded Shefer and Mhlanga must be stopped from selling the fuel as they had been doing so fraudulently.
Gamede then wrote a letter two days later — on October 21, 2015 — to then Line Petroleum chief executive Nyikadzino Cleopus Mathabire formally instructing the local company to take charge of the remaining fuel – six million litres.
“Following on our meeting on 19th October 2015 at your office at Chisipite, Harare, Zimbabwe; for the selling of the 6(six) million litres of diesel currently stored at Noic on behalf of SFF, Line Petroleum as a consignee for the product is now granted the conditional sole mandate by SFF to sell the entire volume,” the letter reads.
“All purchase orders and product release will be approved by SFF. No monies will be paid, stemming from the diesel transaction, to Sela Energy or Niko Shefer.”
The bulk of the four million litres of diesel was sold to Harare businessman Luka Ignatius Fabris who is involved in mining, construction and trading businesses. Fabris mainly dealt with Shefer, his son Adam, Mhlanga and Sela when the fuel was sold.
After failing to recover its fuel or money, Line Petroleum last week made a police report to the Criminal Investigations Department Serious Fraud Squad. The first case, DR/21/3/16, relates to the fraudulent sale of four million litres of diesel and the second one, DR29/3/16, concerns US$450 000 Line Petroleum paid to Sela, through its Cyprus bank account, to order petrol which was never delivered.
This led to Mhlanga’s arrest on fraud charges last week. It is said Goreraza, using his mother’s influence and family connections through name-dropping or direct intervention, then played a key role in helping Mhlanga to get released from police custody.
In his warned and cautioned statement, Mhlanga denied the charges although Fabris told the police he was involved. “I deny the charge in the manner alleged by the state,” Mhlanga wrote in his police statement.
However, Fabris told the police: “I paid cash (for fuel) amounting to US$600 000 to Lionel Mhlanga who was in the company of Simu (for Simukai) Sekeramayi at my house.”
Fabris this week refused to shed light on the issue to the Independent, saying: “My friend this is a sensitive matter; I’m in a meeting will call later.” But later Fabris was no longer answering his phone.
Shefer’s cellphone was answered by a lady who only identified herself as Charmaine. She said he was not around. The Independent left relevant contact details, but Shefer did not call back.
Sources say Shefer was contacted this week to report to the police, but claimed he was too busy before changing his line to say he was ready to avail himself after he was threatened that Interpol was now going to be involved to get South African police to extradite him to Zimbabwe. Shefer, a former commodities broker, who also has an Israeli passport, is no stranger to extradition. He was paroled in South Africa in 1995 after being extradited from Switzerland and serving five years of a 14-year sentence for stealing R47 million from Trust Bank which was established in Cape Town.
Goreraza’s phone repeatedly went unanswered, while Mhlanga could not be found.
Grace’s spokesperson was unreachable for comment.
Fabris’s statement explains how he met Shefer who later sold him the embezzled fuel.
“Sometime early in July 2015, I met with Niko Shefer at my house (in Highlands) during one of his visits to Zimbabwe,” Fabris says
“He explained that he was in possession of a large amount of diesel in tank at National Oil Infrastructure Company of Zimbabwe, Msasa Depot, Harare, which was for sale through Line Petroleum Private Limited at an excellent price.
He told me that the diesel was owned by Sela Energy Private Limited, but consigned to Line Petroleum.
“After studying the offer and comparing market prices, I became interested as it seemed profitable in a very difficult economic environment to buy diesel at US94 cents per litre. Niko Shefer further told me that in order to make the fuel availiable, he needed a substantial amount of cash in advance. I paid cash amounting to US$600 000 to Lionel Mhlanga who was in the company of Simu (Simukai) Sekeramayi at my house.
“A short time after making several payments, my company began to receive diesel release notes from Joseph Manjoro and Cleo Nyika at Line Petroleum. As we received diesel (at the agreed price of 94c per litre Delivered Duty Paid Ex- Tank Noic Msasa) we continued to make further payments in various forms to Line Petroleum and Sela Energy partnership.”
But Mhlanga says in his statement dated March 10:
“I, as Lionel Mhlanga, did not supply the complainant (Line Petroleum) with the invoices and challenge them to show the court the said invoices and prove that they originated from me.
“I challenge the complainant to prove that they paid the money to me directly as I never supplied them any bank details. All in all I do not know anything concerning these transactions as I was never involved in their execution.”
However, Fabris insists Mhlanga was involved in the deal and, in the company of Sekeramayi’s son, collected US$600 000 from his house in Highlands. Shefer, a controversial dealer and convicted fraudster, is known for flaunting his ill-gotten wealth. In one interview, he was reported to have boasted: “I move with cash. I can buy a President a Mercedes 600. How can a normal company justify that? How do they explain that to the shareholders? I do not need board meetings. I am the board.”