US puts sanctions on ally of Zimbabwe president

US puts sanctions on ally of Zimbabwe president

The US has imposed sanctions on a close business ally of Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa who was until this year the partner of global commodity trader Trafigura in the African nation.

Kudakwashe Tagwirei and his Sakunda group were blacklisted on Wednesday by the US Treasury, which said that the businessman used “opaque business dealings and his ongoing relationship with President Mnangagwa” to improperly amass wealth in the shortages-plagued country.

Both the opposition and figures within Mr Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party have accused Mr Tagwirei of “state capture”, or systematic looting of public resources, while ordinary Zimbabweans are suffering from the collapse of the local currency and triple-digit inflation.

Mr Tagwirei has become popularly known as “Queen Bee” over the allegations of state capture, which Sakunda has denied.

“Tagwirei and other Zimbabwean elites have derailed economic development and harmed the Zimbabwean people through corruption,” Justin Muzinich, deputy secretary in the US Treasury, said. 

The sanctions will prevent Americans from dealing with Mr Tagwirei or Sakunda. Mr Tagwirei did not respond to a request for comment on the sanctions designation.

Mr Tagwirei “has utilised his relationships with high-level Zimbabwean officials to gain state contracts and receive favoured access to hard currency, including US dollars”, the US Treasury said. “In turn, Tagwirei has provided high-priced items, such as expensive cars, to senior-level Zimbabwean government officials.”

Sakunda has also come under scrutiny over its role in a government agriculture subsidy drive under Mr Mnangagwa, with opposition lawmakers saying $3bn of state funds cannot be accounted for.

Trafigura, which has been a main lender to Zimbabwe by supplying fuel on credit, was in a joint venture with Sakunda until it cut ties this year in order to “bring improved clarity on Trafigura’s activities in the country”.

Trafigura had previously held a 49 per cent stake in the venture, Trafigura Zimbabwe. It bought out Sakunda’s controlling stake in the severing of ties. The trading group said on Wednesday that this deal was now complete.

The Financial Times revealed last year while Sakunda was still a partner of Trafigura that the IMF had warned Zimbabwean authorities on Sakunda’s favoured access to central bank resources, after the company received inflated payouts on government debts. 

The payouts led to massive increases in the money supply, tanking the Zimbabwe dollar further and worsening the economic crisis.

Scrutiny of Mr Tagwirei’s interests beyond Sakunda has grown this year as he has been linked to a series of other business deals, including mines in the country.

Mr Mnangagwa’s government recently brutally suppressed protests against corruption planned for last week, including the detention of journalists, activists and opposition politicians. 

He claimed in an address this week that “dark forces” inside and outside Zimbabwe were working against his government, and threatened to “flush out” his enemies.