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Millions believed stolen from Zimbabawe

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe delivers a speech on April 18, 2008 during celebrations for the country's independence.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Last week, the United Nations Security Council tried -- and failed -- to impose economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. The resolution was vetoed by the Chinese and the Russians. So Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is trying to convince African leaders to do something themselves. In a speech today, she called on them to hold Mugabe accountable. Britain's got sort of the same thing in mind. From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports on the hunt for Mugabe's millions.


Stephen Beard: (Sounds of chanting at rally) Refugees from Zimbabwe hold a rally in London. They call -- yet again -- for an end to the Mugabe regime before more lives are lost and before the country is completely ruined. Mugabe's henchmen have embarked on a final orgy of theft and corruption, says refugee and opposition party member, Sam Taffara.

Sam Tarrara: They're selling ivory, they're selling diamonds, they're selling gold, even timber. The country is plundered. It's looted. These guys are just looting like baboons in a corn field.

And he says everyone knows that the ruling elite has funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars abroad

Tarrara: It has to be a very careful job to find out what exactly they are hiding and where and how.

Beard: And then get it back.

TarraraExactly get it back as far as possible.

Getting it back may be near impossible. The Europeans and the Americans have been trying to follow the money trail out of Zimbabwe for years, with little help from the rest of the world and little success. They did find and freeze a $1 million bank account in South London ,but that was it. Patrick Smith is editor of Africa Confidential magazine. He says Mugabe's cronies have become even more evasive.

Patrick Smith: There are banks such as the Metropolitan Bank, which was established in Zimbabwe by a man called Enoch Camashinda, and he's been instrumental in enabling them to switch their accounts from Europe and the United States to countries such as Malaysia and China.

China voted down U.N. sanctions targeted against the regime, so it's unlikely to help find and freeze that money. Malaysia probably won't co-operate either. Nor South Africa or Namibia, where Mugabe's henchmen are reported to have invested millions in real estate.

Tape of Robert Mugabe: I, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, do swear that I will ..

Mugabe depicts himself as an African liberator standing up to the neo-colonial bullies in Britain and the U.S. That's proved effective. Countries only recently de-colonised aren't ready to join any western hunt for the plundered loot. And says Professor Stephen Chan of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Mugabe's has many allies in the West as well.

Stephen Chan: The huge battalions, squadrons, divisions of Western lawyers and accountants who've helped members of both this and many other regimes to disguise, launder, re-circulate and re-front their money in such an effective fashion.

He says the targeted sanctions that attempt to track and freeze Zimbabwean assets are pointless. In order to pry Mugabe and his cronies from power, they'll probably be offered a range of inducements.

Chan: In other words, part of the dirty deal that would need to be done here is to allow people to keep their ill-gotten gains.

This will be hard to stomach for many of the refugees that fled Mugabe's repression. But plundered assets are never recovered in full. The Nigerian government got $300 million back from European bank accounts belonging to their former dictator Sonny Abacha. But he's reckoned to have stolen $4 billion. No one has yet attempted to put a figure on Mugabe's haul.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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