HARARE - A local fuel dealer Line Petroleum (Line) and its founding chief executive Cleo Mathabire has been embroiled in a complex “extortion scam” after acquiring product from South Africa’s Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF) through Sela Energy (Sela).
While the Harare company has been under the spotlight for alleged participation in illegal fuel deals and whereby stocks brought into the country under special dispensations are finding their way onto the black market, a dispute has arisen between Line and its foreign suppliers over the misappropriation of four million litres of diesel provided by the Independent Petroleum Group (IPG).
Under an April 2015 agreement brokered by Lionel Mhlanga’s Sela, Mathabire’s company was to hold – and distribute – 10 million litres of product sourced from various suppliers, but relations soured after the latter failed to account for about 50 percent of the diesel.
And despite acknowledgements that Line was holding the bulk product provided by Pretoria’s SFF, the company’s state security-linked boss has made a stunning about-face with the sole intention of claiming that it was the South African-backed brother or agent, who had embezzled the stock under review.
“I write to confirm and update you on the current status of the above stock at the National Oil Infrastructure Company of Zimbabwe (NOIC),” Mathabire said a June 26 letter to SFF CE Bheki Gila.
“I have attached the… storage warrant certificate for your attention. This product remains under the ownership of the Strategic Fuel Fund… and will only be disposed of or released ex-storage of confirmation of (the SFF),” he said.
Apart from the Line boss’ letter, NOIC also confirmed it was holding stocks on behalf of the Chisipite-based company and which would “only be released on account of its strict instruction, and directive”.
However, Mathabire has chosen to play or engage in a “smoke-and-mirrors” game by claiming that four million litres of the product were sucked out without his knowledge.
And to add salt to injury, he has preferred fraud charges against Sela’s principals, including Mhlanga.
Nonetheless, the Harare businessman has asserted that the allegations levelled against his company were not only spurious, but “patently false, misleading and intended to deflect focus on the real culprits being Line, and its fraudulent activities”.
“There is absolutely no substance to Sela or any of its executives’ (involvement) regarding the release of the fuel or placement in the market. Sela simply acted as a broker and introduced SFF to Line in good faith (and) promoting economic activity in Zimbabwe,” Mhlanga said.
“Neither the company nor any individuals were participant in the storage or release of the (fuel) in question. Sela has repeatedly requested a forensic audit… for the benefit of SFF, but this has been consistently denied by Line despite us offering to pay for that audit,” he said.
While Mathabire was unreachable for comment this week, it is these stunning revelations that he was spurning an audit that have accentuated feelings that he “was simply preferring fraud charges against his business associates just to intimidate them and cover his tracks”.
A member of the state security machinery seconded to Vice President Mphoko’s office, the Line boss has also had numerous run-ins with other partners and critics say he was simply trying to wriggle out of his obligations, and possible answering to charges of prejudicing its legitimate owners.
According to documents, Sela had also supplied ex-purchase consignments of petrol from Secunda and the IPG, as part of fulfilling its end of the bargain and commitments to Line.
And in all the cases, the product was consigned directly to Mathabire’s company and paid for by the SA-backed energy trader to suppliers.
But Mhlanga opined yesterday that none of these “rogue” transactions – which have also gripped the Zimbabwean public’s attention in recent months – were done by any other party except the likes of Line.
“…the attempt to malign bona fide investors in Zimbabwe is clearly an act of (serious) bad faith and bordering on sabotage,” he said.