Deadly organised crime hits Zim

HARARE - Zimbabwe is coming under the grip of deadly organised crime run by an intricate network whose operations include killings, cargo theft, minerals smuggling, prostitution rings, drug and human trafficking.

The mafia’s hand has even penetrated business and state-run enterprises, a fact that start-up firms will soon discover.

Moreover, its reach in the business world is widespread in the tantalising southern African country  —  currently using US dollars as a major instrument of trade after ditching its worthless currency in 2009 due to hyperinflation.

From seizing truckloads of diamonds ore and platinum, drug pushing to contract killings, there is rising organised criminal activity in Zimbabwe as the economy cools, which has made fast money more appealing.

Criminal organisations and their leadership often have direct ties to oligarchs and others in positions of power in government, even in law enforcement.

A senior police officer, was reprimanded in January for inviting two criminals to Harare South District police's end-of-year party held at the Tobacco Sales Floor in Harare.

In order to conduct business in Zimbabwe, companies are finding that dealings with the government lead directly to dealings with other officials demanding pay, not for product or services but for protection and other vague promises, including “permission” to conduct business.

When demands are not met or lines are crossed, the result often is a violent and bloody death, regardless of who erred or what sin he committed.

Money laundering is also spiralling out of control, and the Washington-based IMF executive board pledged technical assistance to Zimbabwe on Tuesday to tighten “anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism.”

In July, the bloodied body of prominent Harare businessperson Allan Banks was recovered in the boot of his car with a plastic bag wound around his head.

Police admitted this style of killing was “very rare” in Zimbabwe.

Banks was seen as a popular figure in the nation’s small white community, he lived in relatively quiet neighbourhood not associated with gang activity.

It was speculated the high-profile businessperson was targeted in a contract killing — a new technique in the mob’s repertoire — and a police investigation into his killing has yielded nothing so far.

Earlier in August last year, former military chief Solomon Mujuru, one of Zimbabwe’s leading political power brokers and husband of the Vice President Joice Mujuru, was found dead after a mysterious fire at his farm in Beatrice.

While an inquest that saw 39 witnesses testifying ruled out foul play, there is widespread suspicion that “professionals” coordinated the “assassination” of the general, widely seen as a kingmaker in President Robert Mugabe’s party and with business interests in agriculture, stock and money markets, finance, construction and mining.

At the time of his death, Mujuru was locked in a dispute with his business partner, Saudi-based tycoon Adel Abdul Rahman in his flagship company River Ranch diamond mine.

The company has since been placed under provisional liquidation.

Residents are also growing accustomed to front-page news of rising drug trade by foreigners, mainly Tanzanians, cargo hijacking, prostitution rings and the grim reality that the country is no longer simply a transit point for the world’s most-wanted human traffickers.

For many of these outlaws, Zimbabwe has become home base, a comfortable sanctuary where many of them lie low while keeping a hand in the industry.

Even Rwandan genocide fugitive Prorais Mpiranya — head of the presidential guard responsible for butchering 800 000 minority Tutsis in the tiny east African country in just 100 days between April and June 1994 — is reportedly hiding in Zimbabwe, and the UN last month put up a $5 million bounty for his whereabouts.

Just last week, a Tanzanian drug smuggler Ally Omari Mpili died in Harare after swallowing 1,4kg of heroin worth $112 000 — and two of his associates were arrested while trying to steal his corpse.

 Mlawa Jumanne Ndumbogane and Mufungo Ngara, were charged with breaching Zimbabwe’s dangerous Drugs Act, denied bail and remanded in custody until November 12.

The case portrays a sprawling, well-organised criminal network running drug dealing on the streets of Harare.

With drug gangs looking to expand their operations, Zimbabwe, which was a transit point in the 1990s, has turned into a profitable marketplace. There is a huge local demand for drugs.

And unlike governments in some other countries in the region that are engaged in aggressive drug wars, the government here has not yet aimed the full might of its law enforcement at traffickers.

Police, in an effort to show its resolve in taking on traffickers, make regular announcements of its latest drug raids.

The drug gangs have infiltrated poor communities in the densely-populated areas, where, with the complicity of local authorities, they can act with impunity.

Hard drugs like cocaine and heroin are also making their way into affluent suburbs in Harare, where a “fix” is going for anything up to $60. Called “dota” in street lingo, the hard drugs have become number one scourge, eclipsing hard liquor which previously wracked society.

Police officials say foreign traffickers live quietly with their families in some of the most exclusive areas such as Borrowdale and in town houses, which they consider safer than their home countries.
They appoint local intermediaries to run their drug operations.

Zimbabwe’s government is given to fretting over the image their country projects abroad, mainly because it has been mostly linked to political violence.  

Over the past three years, the government has spent millions of dollars on campaigns to show a different side of the country — unlimited business opportunities, pristine tourism destinations, and abundant wildlife. So for many Zimbabweans, it is mortifying to see the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) last week classifying the country as the new hub for human trafficking.

Meanwhile, a number of Zimbabwean women are returning home in body bags after being executed in Malaysia for attempting to go into the Asian country with their stomachs stuffed full of cocaine, a crime punishable by death in that country.

The international drug gangs specifically targeted trendy young Zimbabwean women aged between 20 and 40 and they willingly engage in drug mule duties. Malaysia imposes the death penalty for drug trafficking from 15 grammes of heroin and 200 grammes of cannabis and cocaine.

Mugabe has said diplomatic channels to save some of the women from execution, have been futile. The young Zimbabwean women are swallowing rubber wraps of cocaine and boarding flights to Malaysia.

It is a complicated, high-paying trade, involving couriers and decoys, including cabin crew, according to a source, that allow safe passage through customs control.

At least six Zimbabwean women have been executed so far in Malaysia.

“Tongozotambira yava mitumbi,” Mugabe said recently.

Yet it seems the death penalty being served on young Zimbabwean women is failing to act as a deterrent to the desperate women who continue to smuggle drugs to earn a living.

Meanwhile, IOM counter trafficking officer, Tapfumaneyi Kusemwa says Zimbabwe is now a “source, transit and destination” for human trafficking. IOM says young Zimbabwean women and girls are being lured to China, Egypt, the UK and Canada under false pretences and subjected to prostitution.

At home, with a lack of honest opportunities to make enough money to support their families, many women are resorting to the oldest profession.

The lion’s share of Zimbabwe prostitution is centred in Harare, though it is also in the larger cities and farming, mining and border towns. The money can be instantly gratifying, but irregular, but the lifestyle quickly takes its toll on the prostitute’s most saleable asset, her youth.

Harare’s red light district bars and nightclubs are teeming with attractive and young prostitutes from all over the country.

 Meanwhile, a syndicate of female “rapists” was accuses of going on the rampage along the country’s major highways, picking up male hitchhikers and “raping” them at gunpoint, before harvesting sperm which is reportedly sold for use in money-making rituals. - Gift Phiri

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