ILLEGAL money changers chased out of Harare’s central business district (CBD) are now operating from parked vehicles in the Avenues area and Westgate.
Groups now congregate in Baines, Josiah Chinamano, Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela avenues and just outside Westgate Shopping Centre.
Popular dealers who used to ply the illicit trade on the pavements around Eastgate shopping mall and in Angwa Street (popularly known as Ximex area) have established new bases outside the city centre with some along Baines Avenue near Colhoun Street while others are operating from the corner of Kwame Nkrumah Avenue and Fifth Street, behind Holiday Inn Hotel.
Another team has moved to the pavement outside the main entrance of Westgate shopping mall.
Money changers target those who collect money sent by their friends and relatives in the Diaspora through World Remit, Mukuru and other platforms.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the net was now closing in on the illegal foreign currency dealers.
“We are aware of illegal money changers who are sneaking into town for illicit deals during lockdown.
“I wish to warn them against such illegal practices. Their arrest is imminent and the law will be applied without fear or favour,” he said.
“As police, we urge members of the public to change their foreign currency at authorised bureaux de change or buy from shops that have authority to transact in both local and foreign currency.
“All those who are engaging in illegal foreign currency deals, should know that the police are coming for them. They must take this message seriously. We cannot fold our hands and watch them disregard the lockdown directive,” Asst-Comm Nyathi said.
When The Herald visited the Kwame Nkrumah spot near Holiday Inn, illegal money changers were playing hide-and-seek with the police.
A number of them were arrested in full view of journalists while others managed to escape.
One of the money changers who escaped later opened up to The Herald, explaining how they were conducting their business. He was aware of the importance of the lockdown, but staying indoors would starve his family.
The illegal dealer said most illegal dealers were posing as employees offering an essential service through fraudulent letters.
Such letters, according to the source, were being produced using reputable companies’ letterheads.
“It is not easy to sneak into town during this lockdown period considering high security checkpoints and roadblocks on the roads. So we have identified some routes where there are no roadblocks at all,” he said.
“Others who do not have vehicles rely on pirate taxis which usually drop them near town and they complete their journey on foot.
“However, some are producing fake exemption letters at police roadblocks or whenever they are confronted by security personnel in town. There are people who are making these letters. The fake exemption letters cannot be detected at police checkpoints and it is now very easy for most of us to be in town.”
Along Baines Avenue, money changers carry out their business inside their vehicles, making it difficult for police officers to arrest them. Only serious clients are entertained. Their method of operation is unique in the sense that they do not solicit for clients. They do not display cash. Their clients usually ask for EcoCash transfers, which the illegal money changers offer without any difficulties.
At Westgate Shopping Mall, money changers operating outside the mall, fearlessly solicit for clients while displaying wads of cash.