FORMER Finance minister Ignatius Chombo was last night detained at Rhodesville Police Station in Harare following his arrest on charges of fraud and criminal abuse of office over illegal parcelling out of State land.
Chombo, who allegedly committed the offences during his tenure as Local Government minister in the late former President Robert Mugabe’s government, is alleged to have connived with the former First Lady Grace Mugabe to illegally acquire State land.
He was detained after being interrogated by the Special Anti-Corruption Unit (Sacu), a unit in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, following his implication as a key figure in the illegal sale of State land in Justice Tendai Uchena’s Land Commission report.
Sacu head Thabani Mpofu declined yesterday to confirm Chombo’s arrest, referring questions to police, but the former minister’s lawyer Lovemore Madhuku confirmed that his client was being held at Rhodesville Police Station.
“Chombo was initially summoned for questioning in the morning. However, after questioning him, they decided to detain him. Right now, as we speak, he is currently detained at Rhodesville Police Station. He will appear before the courts tomorrow (today),” Madhuku said.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “I just heard it on (radio). I am yet to check whether he has been arrested by the police or Sacu.”
A leaked State outline seen by NewsDay showed that Chombo faces one count of fraud and five counts of criminal abuse of office charges after he allegedly illegally parcelled out land to himself and Grace.
However, in his warned-and cautioned-statement, Chombo denied the charges. He said he did not receive any money from land seekers.
“There are no registered stands in my name as alleged, nor was I given any. An investigation with the Deeds Registry will prove that with regards to the alleged stands in Philadelphia or Haydon Farm.
“A check at the Companies’ Registry will also show that I am neither director nor shareholder in the three companies (alleged I allocated stands to) … There is absolutely no basis for these allegations. I committed no fraud or criminal abuse of office and at all time I executed my duties as a government minister in full compliance with the law,” Chombo said.
Allegations are that sometime between 2000 and 2015, Chombo illegally caused desperate land seekers to deposit money into his personal Agribank account, but he did not remit the funds for development purposes.
He allegedly misrepresented to the land seekers that he would allocate them stands at Kia Ora Farm under Zvimba Rural District Council (RDC), but failed to do so.
On another count, Chombo allegedly used his influence as a minister and grabbed 125 commonage stands at Haydon Farm under Zvimba Rural District Council. He also allocated himself five low-density residential stands at Philadelphia Farm in Harare, and then he allocated three of the stands to his associates.
It is further alleged that during that same period, Chombo grabbed several residential stands at Carrick Creagh Farm in Harare district and registered them under his companies, Comverol Enterprises and Cayford.
He allocated some stands to land seekers, but later evicted them.
Chombo also stands accused of handing over State land at Order Farm in Harare to a private company, Sensene Investments. He allegedly ordered his subordinates in the Local Government ministry to sign a deed of settlement in relation to Stoneridge Farm with Philip Chiyangwa’s Pinnacle Holdings, without Cabinet approval.
Chombo, in his statement to the Land Commission, denied allocating State land for his benefit at Haydon and Philadelphia farms.
“On the allegations on Haydon Farm, I think it is imperative that I first give a brief background of the whole issue. Haydon Farm was acquired and given to Zvimba RDC in 2011 for housing development as per their request. Zvimba went into a partnership with a private developer called Delatfin Investments (Pvt) Ltd. In this partnership arrangement, the developer would get 60% of the shares of the proceeds while council was getting 40% plus 10% commonage.
“Haydon Farm originally had 744 hectares; however, part of it was allocated to Kurotwi for Conway College and Truck Inn and the other 30 hectares for the diamond centre. Another part was allocated for the jatropha project. This means Zvimba RDC and their partner Delatfin were dealing with 266ha on the ground only. A layout plan for 266 hectares was prepared, submitted and approved.”
He said at a later stage while the project was being implemented, Delatfin took an additional 120 hectares which was outside the partnership arrangement.
“It was brought to my attention that the 120 hectares in question was not approved and there wasn’t any documentation. Neither the Zvimba RDC nor the parent ministry were made aware of this. Delatfin I’m told, started selling land yet they did not have an offer letter or any documentation in relation to the said land,” he said.
The former minister said he had no personal interest in Delatfin Investments.
“It defies logic why the minister responsible would request for stands from Delatfin Investments (Pvt) Ltd on a piece of land that he didn’t have or was not allocated. The allegations become spurious in that l would request stands with stand numbers for a piece of land that Delatfin does not have or own. Delatfin Investment (Pvt) went to Zvimba RDC as a partner to develop Haydon Farm, having gone through a tendering process directly with the Zvimba RDC.”
On the issue of Philadelphia, Chombo said he did not get any stands from there and did not give any stand to his personal assistant, Natsai Jaiwa, but she applied and was paying for it.
“I am said to have collected a lot of money from Philadelphia residents through my business partner called Tutisani. It is true that I visited Philadelphia with Dr Made (Joseph) (Former Lands and Agriculture minister), and ministry officials to have a look at the project. I did not pinpoint stands as alleged,” Chombo said.
He is also facing charges of corruptly selling a government property in Mutare to former Mutare South MP Fred Kanzama (Zanu PF).
In other cases, Chombo is jointly charged with the former director of valuations and estates management in the Local Government ministry, Lazarus Chimba. All charges arise from the Uchena Land Commission report.