Is Zimbabwe’s President Mnangagwa behind gold smuggling?
Al Jazeera’s investigation shows different gold smuggling gangs have one common thread — links to Emmerson Mnangagwa.
14 Apr 2023
One gold smuggler described Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa as his business partner. Another talked of Mnangagwa as a former partner whom he still meets. A third said he had to keep the president in the loop about gold smuggling operations.
The president’s niece outlined an elaborate money laundering and gold smuggling scheme that she promised to help execute. And one of Zimbabwe’s top diplomats, handpicked by Mnangagwa, dialled the president’s wife to try to seal a laundering deal.
Gold Mafia, a four-part investigation by Al Jazeera, has revealed how some of Southern Africa’s biggest gold smuggling gangs plunder their countries to enrich themselves while helping criminals launder hundreds of millions of dollars. Undercover reporters from Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) posed as Chinese criminals to infiltrate these gangs, which offered them a range of options to wash dirty dollars using Zimbabwean gold.
But in case after case, spanning the gangs, one name kept cropping up as the person the smugglers claimed gave them a protective shield: President Emmerson Mnangagwa or “ED”, as he is known in Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa became president of Zimbabwe in 2017, removing long-time leader Robert Mugabe. Now 80, Mnangagwa has promised to solve the country’s myriad socio-economic problems, including the widespread scourge of corruption.
Al Jazeera’s investigation, however, reveals multiple links between Mnangagwa and the gold smuggling and money laundering schemes bleeding the country. They raise questions over how much Mnangagwa knows about these scams, and whether – as some of the smugglers said – he was directly facilitating them.
$200,000 ‘appreciation’ for Mnangagwa
One of the most direct ways to launder money in exchange for Zimbabwean gold was proposed by Uebert Angel, Zimbabwe’s ambassador-at-large to Europe and the Americas, and his deputy Rikki Doolan.
They described Mnangagwa as “Number One” in their scheme, repeatedly insisting that he was aware of what they were doing. The idea was simple: Money launderers could send their unaccounted cash to Zimbabwe through Angel, who enjoys diplomatic cover and so is not searched at airports. In exchange, the launderers would receive an equivalent amount of Zimbabwean gold that they could then sell for seemingly legitimate money.
Angel and Doolan also offered to set up a meeting between Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters and Mnangagwa — in exchange for a fee of $200,000. But Angel made clear that it should not be seen as a bribe paid to Mnangagwa. Instead, he said, this would be a way of saying “thank you” to the Zimbabwean president.
“That guy doesn’t take bribes. Oh no, no, he won’t,” Angel, a self-proclaimed prophet who was appointed by Mnangagwa as one of his top diplomats, said. “There’s a big difference in appreciating somebody and bribing.”
Doolan, who used the nickname Mr Jones for Mnangagwa, told the reporters: “What we’re gonna do is take all of that appreciation and give it to Mr Jones.”
In the end, Al Jazeera did not pay the $200,000 requested by Angel and Doolan, so a meeting with Mnangagwa never happened, but Doolan was clear about the influence Angel wielded with the president’s family.
“Mr and Mrs Jones call him their son,” Doolan said, speaking of Angel.
Doolan was not bluffing. During the meetings with the reporters, Angel once telephoned Mnangagwa’s wife Auxillia, whom he called “mum”. During the call, he asked for help to launder $1.2bn. Al Jazeera has independently verified that the person at the other end of the call was Auxillia Mnangagwa.
“Remember those people that want to move cash,” Angel asked her, speaking from the United Kingdom where he was meeting the reporters. “They would want to know, are we providing the planes or [are] they providing the planes?”
Auxillia responded: “How would I know?” She said Angel should “ask father”, referring to Mnangagwa.
“I will see him at 6, right, and see how I best present this to him,” Angel replied. “I will present it to him, then. Then he will discuss which planes he uses, his [Mnangagwa’s] or their own.”
When Angel asked Auxillia if it was achievable to “move the cash”, Zimbabwe’s first lady answered: “That’s right.”
Immediately after the call, Angel told the undercover reporters: “You have got the president, you have got his family involved.”
The president’s niece
Central to Angel’s scheme was Henrietta Rushwaya, who heads the country’s miners’ association and is Mnangagwa’s niece.
On a call with Angel, witnessed by the undercover reporters, Rushwaya detailed how she could help them launder money using gold.
They would send $10m in illicit cash at a time to Zimbabwe through Angel. The money would be parked with Fidelity, the gold refinery of the country’s central bank. Of that, $5m would be held as a deposit by Fidelity for the duration of the laundering scheme, she said. Gold worth the remaining $5m would be smuggled abroad to the reporters, who could secure seemingly legitimate funds from its sale. “They get gold worth five million every week,” she said. “They take it out, bring another five million.”
‘He has to be informed’
Kamlesh Pattni, a notorious gold smuggler who was accused of nearly bankrupting Kenya in the 1990s, showed Al Jazeera reporters what he said were WhatsApp messages exchanged with Mnangagwa, whom he called “Tembo”, meaning elephant in Swahili.
“He has to be informed,” Pattni said while he sent one such WhatsApp message. “I’ve informed him what is happening in Tanzania, that we are putting up [a] gold coin factory in Bulawayo.”
Pattni showed multiple photos of him with the Zimbabwean president and offered to set up a meeting between the reporters and Mnangagwa.
Pattni also said he sends a trusted employee to regularly meet Mnangagwa to offer “appreciation” — effectively bribes. “Every fortnight, he [Pattni’s employee] is there at the State House. We always renew our appreciation,” Pattni said.
“When you work you must always have the king with you, the president.”
‘Don’t open your mouth’
Ewan Macmillan, a veteran Zimbabwean gold smuggler first arrested in the 1990s, said Mnangagwa was once his business partner in profiting off the country’s natural resources.
Once, when Macmillan was arrested, he received a clear warning from Mnangagwa, he said: “He was my partner, my exact partner. He said to me, don’t open your mouth. Your life will get worse than it is,” Macmillan recalled. “I said f**k, are you kidding me.”
Over the years, their relationship soured somewhat, but Macmillan said they met again at a dinner after Mnangagwa became president. “I walked in and he said, ‘good to see you, my old friend’,” Macmillan said. “And I said ‘very good to see you and well done on your position’.”
The president’s watch
Nowadays, however, Macmillan has a closer relationship with a different Emmerson Mnangagwa — the president’s son who shares his father’s name.
“I can put you straight in touch with him, that’s no problem, he’s a friend of mine,” Macmillan told the reporters of the son.
At one point in the conversations with the Al Jazeera reporters, Macmillan began showing off his array of fancy watches. “I have the steel Daytona, I have the Submariner, I have the gold Submariner, I have two Presidents,” he said, naming different types of Rolex watches.
One of those watches, he said, originally belonged to the president.
“This is between us. I have Mnangagwa’s gold-studded President,” Macmillan said. “The son ran into debt and had to pay the debt off so he gave me the Rolex. I paid the debt off, and he said, ‘Please don’t tell my dad’, and I think, ‘F**k, man, you’re joking. I’ve got the dad’s watch’.”
‘ED is my partner’
Macmillan’s business partner, Alistair Mathias, also claimed he had a close working relationship with the leader of Zimbabwe.
Mathias sets up complex gold smuggling schemes for criminals looking to cleanse millions of dollars of undeclared cash. He offered his services to the Al Jazeera reporters. Initially reluctant to open up, he eventually started dropping names of leaders across Africa who he said were his clients.
“Swaziland, the king is a close friend of mine. Zambia’s president is a close friend of my friend,” Mathias said. “The DRC Congo — the president has invited me several times there to come and build a refinery.”
“Ghana’s president is a cool, good friend of mine, like he was my lawyer,” he said. And President Mnangagwa is more than a friend.
“In Zim, ED is my partner. I can’t say it in public because he’s sanctioned,” Mathias said.
Asked for a response to Al Jazeera’s investigation, Kamlesh Pattni denied involvement in any form of money laundering or bribery and denied being in communication with President Mnangagwa or having any business dealings with him.
Alistair Mathias denied that he designed mechanisms to launder money and said he had never laundered money or gold or offered to do this. He told us he had never had any working relationship with Emmerson Mnangagwa or any of the African politicians he identified to our reporters.
President Mnangagwa, as well as others mentioned in this article, did not respond to our requests for comment.