High court freezes assets for suspected second hand clothes smuggler

 A MAN from Mutare suspected to be the mastermind of a syndicate smuggling second-hand clothes into Zimbabwe from Mozambique, Edward Muhamba, has seen his property and trucks worth US$500 000 frozen by the High Court until he explains how he acquired them.

The High Court gave him 30 days to explain in a sworn statement, including receipts and other proof, how he acquired the two commercial properties, a house and five trucks or risk having the lot forfeited to the State. He has never declared any income from employment or business for tax purposes.

Muhamba had his trucks impounded by the police on previous occasions while ferrying allegedly smuggled second-hand clothes. In one of the cases, police chose to arrest two detectives who had impounded his vehicle laden with 142 bales of clothes on charges of criminal abuse of office and used him as a State witness.

Last year, Muhamba was part of a gang that was picked up for allegedly fighting over smuggling routes in Mutare. Investigations by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) implicate him in smuggling of bales of second-hand clothes, money laundering and unlawful dealing in diamonds. So now he must explain how he amassed his wealth within a short space of time.

Muhamba (39), according to preliminary investigations, has never been employed by a reputable company, neither does he pay tax to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority for any known business. Good incomes tend to come from a good job or a good business or both.

The Prosecutor General, acting on ZACC instructions, successfully obtained a court order freezing Muhamba’s known assets last week.

The same order, issued by Justice Pisirayi Kwenda, compels Muhamba to file a written explanation on how he acquired the following assets:

Stand 11708 Beira Corridor 2 Mutare, worth US$25 000; Commercial stand 12 Muduna Crescent, Nyamakate Industrial area in Mutare, valued at US$250 000;975 Chikanga Phase One, Mutare, worth US$100 000;

Hino Ranger truck registration number ABK3205, valued at US$12 000;

Hino truck registration number ABK 1931, valued at US$20 000; Hino Ranger truck registration number ABR 0066, valued at US$20 000; and

Toyota Hilux registration number AEL 0648, valued at US$45 000.

Justice Kwenda wants Muhamba to submit the written explanation to the head of ZACC’s Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Unit within 30 days of service of the order.

Receipts and other supporting documentation should be attached to the report to prove the legitimacy of the wealth. Failure to give a satisfactory explanation may result in the assets being forfeited to the State, as tainted property.

The application accuses Muhamba of participating “directly or indirectly in serious offences that include money laundering, smuggling of second-hand clothes from Mozambique and unlawful dealing in diamonds, which give rise to a reasonable conclusion that his acquisition of wealth is unexplained and illicit”.

So far, as can be discovered, he was never “employed formally or informally to an extent that his known source of income remains a mystery as he has never declared any income in terms of the Income Tax Act, proving that he indeed lawfully earned the wealth that he has.

“The conclusion is that his wealth, which exceeds US$100 000, far exceeds his known source of income,” reads part of the application.

Muhamba and Simon Muzonzini (45) in July last year appeared in court on charges of public violence near Christmas Pass area in Mutare. They were freed on $50 000 bail each, with the consent of the prosecution. The violence, which police said had to do with control of smuggling routes, broke out on July 10 last year and vehicles were smashed while people were injured.

Travellers could neither drive into nor out of Mutare as the warring groups’ vehicles temporarily blocked the road.

According to State papers, on July 10 in the afternoon, Muhamba and Muzonzini met someone called Dzingai, who was accusing them of causing the arrest of his smuggling partner Anyway Chinyanga and the seizure of smuggled bales and trucks.

A misunderstanding ensued resulting in the parties shouting at each other and fighting using sticks and metal rods.

A Scania truck and a Toyota Land Cruiser belonging to Muhamba were damaged in the fight.

Dzingai and his accomplice, according to the State papers, were injured but they managed to escape. Muhamba and Muzonzini were arrested.

Cartels smuggling fuel and second-hand clothes into Zimbabwe have become so powerful and daring that they are hiring earth-moving equipment to clear and repair illegal gravel roads connecting into Mozambique through undesignated points without the local authorities’ involvement.

Fuel tankers and other heavy trucks laden with clothing bales cross into Zimbabwe from Mozambique, at times in broad daylight in full view of police and other security officers on the smugglers’ payrolls manning the illegal crossing points.

The cartels have become so powerful that they have monopolised the illegal routes and reportedly bribe security officers deployed at the borders. Armed ex-police officers and ex-soldiers have offered escort services to the smugglers to avoid arrest.

At times when some sacrificial lambs are arrested, presumably as a cover-up measure, the investigators just scratch on the surface and prosecute only truck drivers and some agents, without digging deeper to establish the truck owners and their interests in the deals.

A check with some court records shows that the truck owners are not even mentioned in the papers and in some cases, business addresses are deliberately left out.

Such half-baked investigations that target small fish result in drivers and other agents being fined at the end of the case, which are then paid by their employer, and then a few days later the truck owners successfully seek release of their vehicles held as exhibits. When the vehicles are released, smuggling continues unabated and the convicted drivers resume operations at their workstations.

Some junior police officers who try to dig deeper and investigate further, have at times found themselves in the dock answering to charges of criminal abuse of office or bribery.

(The Herald)