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Vol 4 (AAC) No 11

Published 1st September 2011


Vanishing truckers

Key suspects in a fraud case linked to Grace Mugabe have disappeared, as have Buddhist monks behind a charity project on one of her properties

Four truck drivers charged as accomplices in a trucking fraud case (AAC Vol 4 No 9, Trucking trials) failed to appear in court in Harare on 25 August and warrants for their arrest were issued. The principal accused, Hsieh Ping-sung, was once, until they fell out, a close business associate of Grace Mugabe, President Robert Mugabe’s wife, also known as the First Shopper. The court granted Hsieh and the four bail when they first appeared in February. Hsieh, a Taiwan-born businessman with a South African passport, went back to South Africa and refuses to return to Zimbabwe. Bail conditions for the four others accused are more stringent and they had to remain in Harare.

The ostensible basis for the fraud was that Hsieh had been given US$1 million in cash for the delivery of a fleet of trucks, horses and trailers, only half of which had been consigned, to the complainant, Mrs A. The vehicles remain parked at an orphanage of which Grace Mugabe is the patron. On the face of it, Mrs A. would seem to have had a civil case for breach of contract. Under normal circumstances, the Attorney General’s Office would not have instituted a criminal charge of fraud, but as things progressed it became clear the circumstances were anything but normal. In the absence of Hsieh, the trial has been repeatedly postponed.

The award-winning civil rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, through persistent cross examination (vigorously objected to by the prosecutor), established that the nominal complainant was probably acting as a front for Grace Mugabe. Mrs A., who claimed to be unemployed, was in fact a senior policewoman in charge of Mugabe’s security. In his court filings, Hsieh denied having contact with Mrs A. but admitted a long-standing business association with Mugabe. Attorney-General Johannes Tomana’s office applied to the South African courts for Hsieh’s extradition but botched the application, which was thrown out in mid-August. A Zimbabwe state prosecutor and an official of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe went to South Africa for the unsuccessful proceedings. South African courts are much less deferential to the powerful than those in Zimbabwe; in any case the South Africans had refused assistance.

At a previous hearing Mtetwa extracted a ruling that if the prosecution could not produce Hsieh for trial on 25 August then his accomplices could regain their South African passports and only appear when the prosecutor was able to proceed.

Mystery no show
It was very likely that Hsieh would not materialise, so the four could reasonably have expected to get their passports on 25 August and return to South Africa. They had attended every one of the hearings over the previous six months and their sudden failure to appear has raised eyebrows. Mtetwa said she had no knowledge of their whereabouts. They could easily have absconded across the porous South African border, but they have not yet resurfaced and could equally have just been disappeared.

As time dragged on, rumours grew that Mugabe had more substantive reasons for getting Hsieh into the hands of the Zimbabwe authorities. She had had dealings with him for a number of years and he had handled a number of transactions in Asia on behalf of the Mugabe family. Amongst others, these had included the purchase of their pied à terre, currently valued at $7 mn., in a Hong Kong retirement complex and a mansion where they stay on their frequent Asian visits. Their daughter Bona had lived there while studying in Hong Kong.

Hsieh persuaded the Mugabes that by purchasing the property in his name they would avoid damaging publicity. He is now rumoured to be refusing to transfer the property from his to her name, but his reasons for this are unclear. The two have had other dealings including a gold mine in Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province. It is unlikely that Hsieh will be able to avail himself of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front dispensation that Chinese, as honorary indigens, are exempt from the empowerment drive, if she decides to seek restitution via that route.

Mugabe may not appreciate the irony that she herself has seized a number of properties without compensation under the guise of land reform. One of these, the 1,000 hectare Iron Duke Farm outside Harare (adjoining her seized Gushongo Dairy complex), was ostensibly for conversion into an orphanage with cooperation from Chinese Buddhist monks. The monks have now withdrawn their backing. Instead of providing some modest housing for abandoned children, the funds will be used to construct luxury chalets whose occupants are more likely to be members of the elite.

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