LATEST: High-profile individuals, new president’s allies among those that illegally externalised forex

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INDIVIDUALS and companies that illegally externalised significant amounts of money from the country are known and will be prosecuted if they do not heed a three-month amnesty extended by President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week, a senior government official has said. Zimbabwe is currently in the grips of a serious foreign currency crisis blamed by the authorities on a wide trade deficit as well as the smuggling of cash to offshore havens.

Last year, the central bank said as much as US$I,8 billion has been funneled out of the country in 2015 alone. Mnangagwa, sworn in as president last week after former president Robert Mugabe stepped down under pressure from his party and the military, has promised economic reforms and tough action against graft. On Tuesday, the new president announced a three-month amnesty under which illegally ex-ternalised funds could be brought back into the country with no risk of prosecution for those involved.

Misheck Sibanda, the chief secretary to the President and Cabinet, told reporters that the expiry of the moratorium would be followed by arrests and prosecution of culprits. “After February, legal action will be taken and arrests will be made. The looters are known,” Sibanda said. Sources with knowledge of the matter told The Financial Gazette yesterday that the net could catch high-profile individuals, many with political links and some with close ties to the new president. Mnangagwa’s statement also hinted at the political profiles of targeted offenders.

“Activities linked to Operation Restore Legacy have, among other issues, helped uncover cases where huge sums of money and other as-sets were illegally externalized by certain individuals and corporates,” Mnangagwa said.

The military operation, which eventually forced Mugabe’s resignation after a week-long stand-off that saw the army effectively taking control of government, targeted the former president’s closest allies. Announcing the operation on State television in a predawn statement, major-general Sibusiso Moyo said the military was targeting “criminal elements” around Mugabe.

The former president was, however, granted amnesty from prosecution, in a deal that eventually secured his exit. However, former finance minister Ignatius Chombo, taken into captivity by the military in a nocturnal raid on his Harare home, has since been arraigned in court and faces charges of corruption, fraud and criminal abuse of office. In June, then finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told Parliament that government had commissioned a probe into externalization of forex.

“We are in touch now with the authorities in countries where our money is being externalised. So, sooner or later, we should have information on who is externalizing money,” Chi-namasa said. Mnangagwa, a veteran of successive Mugabe governments, has used his first week in power to strike a different tone from his long-time boss.

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