‘Account for your wealth or lose it’

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Investigations Editor

THE Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) has launched a new operation code-named “Wakazvitenga Sei?” that is set to see individuals who fail to account for their wealth forfeiting it to the State.

ZACC chair Justice Loyce Matanda-Moyo said the anti-graft body was empowered by the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Amendment Act to seize assets bought through proceeds of crime.

Even if the suspected corrupt person is acquitted by the courts, the unexplained wealth orders give the commission and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) power to forfeit the properties.

The law demands that anyone suspected of corruption explain his or her source of wealth, failure of which they will lose the properties.

It is understood that some persons of interest, including high-profile individuals, are already being investigated by ZACC.

Justice Matanda-Moyo told The Sunday Mail that those that would be under investigation are expected to produce verifiable and auditable data to support their wealth.

“This is an intensive lifestyle audit on some of the rich people. They have to produce their invoices on what goods or services they rendered and this has to match the value of the acquired properties,” she said.

“We will also be checking if these people or their businesses were paying taxes. This means that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) is also on board as we seek to ensure compliance to all laws.”

However, before the properties or wealth is seized, an application would be made through the NPA.

Those who are under investigation will then be afforded an opportunity at the High Court to account for their wealth.

Failure to do so will automatically result in seizure and forfeiture.

Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara)’s  former chief executive officer Mr Frank Chitukutuku’s properties have been frozen while investigations into his case continue.

A former Zimra revenue official Mr Kennedy Nyatoti recently lost a US$150 000 mansion and a vehicle after the taxman conducted a lifestyle audit which exposed that his earnings did not match his possessions.

ZACC spokesperson Commissioner John Makamure said the country now has robust legal instruments to fight corruption such as the Anti-Corruption Commission Act, Prevention of Corruption Act, Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Amendment Act and Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Writing in his bi-weekly column, Corruption Watch, which is published by The Sunday Mail, Commissioner Makamure said the unexplained wealth orders were recently enacted into law and gave impetus to assets forfeiture of properties reasonably suspected to have been acquired through corruption.

“The unexplained wealth orders are a profound development in the quest for zero tolerance to corruption. This is because someone can be acquitted in a criminal trial but still have assets forfeited as long as on the balance of probabilities there is reasonable suspicion that they were acquired from corrupt activities.”

Commissioner Makamure said they were closely working with the NPA, which makes applications at the courts to seize targeted properties under the operation.

“We are confident that the improved legal framework on asset recovery should enable the commission to surpass its target of recovering assets worth $300 million by the end of this year.”

Legal expert Mr Oliver Marwa said while the current statutes were adequate to combat corruption, there is need to double down on efforts to fight the scourge considering its prevalence.

There was need for ZACC to hire competent chartered accountants and lawyers who should be well paid to avoid bribery from suspects, he said.

“Corruption in Zimbabwe is more pronounced in the public sector where politicians have more assets compared to their counterparts in the developed world. They acquire houses and cars, hence it is not difficult to seize and forfeit properties acquired from proceeds of crime,” said Mr Marwa.

He recommended that asset seizure should be done expeditiously as properties could be easily transferred or sold to third parties and render the whole exercise futile.

“Corruption is very complicated. So let us be serious because it sustains itself in that if someone is arrested he/she can easily pay a bribe and be released. In some cases, one may never get evidence of corruption,” said Mr Marwa.

“In Zimbabwe, we have the slowest action in dealing with corruption but this must change if we want to win this war.”

President Mnangagwa’s administration has declared war against corruption and has been propping up institutions that fight graft to be able to deliver on their mandate.