South Africa

News24.com | Mystery of sanctioned tycoon's assets in Zimbabwe revival plan

In December, the government of Zimbabwe announced a multibillion-dollar project called Kuvimba Mining House that would hold some of the nation’s most valuable gold, platinum, chrome and nickel mines and whose revenue would be used to revive the country’s moribund economy. The venture would be 65% owned by the government and 35% by private investors, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in a January interview, predicting it would be “highly profitable” within two years. 

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in December the venture will help “in unlocking the inherent richness and value of our country’s mineral deposits,” according to the state-controlled Herald newspaper.

The announcement was met with skepticism among local journalists and some industry analysts. Decades of graft and economic turmoil have left once-prosperous Zimbabwe a ruined state. The country has little formal employment, and inflation last measured 194%. Past state works projects failed to turn things around, not least because public money had a way of disappearing into private hands. Mnangagwa’s declaration that “Zimbabwe is open for business” and promises of a fresh start after he came to power in late 2017 have come to nothing. 

Calls and emails to Ncube over the past month seeking responses to questions about Kuvimba and Tagwirei’s involvement weren’t answered; nor were messages that Zimbabwe’s Permanent Secretary of Finance George Guvamatanga, his assistant, and an outside communications adviser said they would deliver to him.

The Kuvimba project’s success is critical for President Mnangagwa, who has yet to deliver on the turnaround he promised after longtime ruler Robert Mugabe was deposed in a power tussle. He needs the revenue to pay for public services, including civil servants’ pensions and compensation for White farmers driven off their land two decades ago. The country has more than $8 billion in external debt and is effectively cut off from multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Sotic is backed in part by Almas Global Opportunity Fund SPC, an investment firm registered in the Cayman Islands. It’s owned by Almas Capital, a company that is in turn owned by a businessman called Amardeep Sharma, Almas said in a response to queries.

In the response to Bloomberg, Almas declined to comment on its relationship with Tagwirei.

“Pfimbi owns the remaining 35% of Sotic,” Almas said. “Sotic owns a number of mining assets in Zimbabwe, some partially owned such as Great Dyke investments and others totally such as the Freda Rebecca Gold Mine.”

Further complicating matters: David Brown, the veteran mining executive Zimbabwe’s government chose as Kuvimba’s chief executive officer, is also CEO of Sotic.

Fourie says he has been pushed out of Sotic by the shareholders of Pfimbi and is in a dispute with the company. According to an email seen by Bloomberg dated May 22, 2020, Brown asked Fourie to resign, as they had not been able to agree on a role for him in the company. In July of that year, Brown filed suit in the High Court of South Africa seeking to stop Fourie from continuing with “a campaign of disparagement and criticism” of an affiliate of the Sakunda Group on social media, according to the court documents.

Almas said in its response to emailed questions that its opportunity fund has investors from the Persian Gulf, Latin America and India. It declined to say who they were, citing legal obligations.

“With this new company, they are just shifting deck chairs around on the Titanic,” said Jee-A van der Linde, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, South Africa. “I don’t see something like this is going to lift up the economy.”

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