Grace Mugabe Bling-gate: What $1.4 million can get you

HARARE,– “Win and let win” runs the tagline for Jamal Joseph Hamed’s diamond business, the largest gem trader in the United Arab Emirates by his reckoning.

By no means a name readily recognisable in Zimbabwe, where he also operates a generator supply business, apart from buying diamonds, Hamed forced his way into Zimbabweans’ consciousness with a bombshell: he sold President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, a diamond worth $1.35 million for their anniversary.

On a day when yet another national budget presentation left crisis-weary Zimbabweans feeling nothing like winners, Hamed’s revelation, in a December 7 affidavit deposed in Antwerp, darkened the mood of a populace struggling to find where the government’s latest tax would leave them. [Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa proposed a 5 percent tax on airtime to fund public health].

Hamed is in a nasty fight with Mrs Mugabe after their $1.35 million diamond deal went sour.

According to Hamed’s legal papers, Mrs Mugabe placed an order for a $1.35 million 10 carat diamond in April 2015, instructing her bank to transfer that amount to the diamond dealer in Dubai.

“The second respondent (Mrs Mugabe) placed an order for a diamond with my daughter in Dubai, which she indicated her husband wanted to buy her for their anniversary,” Hamed deposed in an affidavit in a case he is suing the first lady, her son Russell and an aide, Kennedy Fero for invading three of his Harare properties in a bid to force him to reverse the diamond deal.

The transfer was done in May 2016, more than a year after the initial order and by which time the Reserve Bank Zimbabwe, alarmed by a worsening United States dollar shortage in the country, had issued a priority list banks need to adhere to before approving payments.

According to the RBZ regulations, the “importation of trinkets, low local content consumer goods and or goods or services readily available in Zimbabwe including non-commercial vehicles, maheu, bottled water, vegetables” are not priority as it seeks more efficient use of scarce foreign currency.

However, according to Hamed, the deal with Mrs Mugabe soon took and awkward turn.

“The transfer was ultimately done in May 2016 and the diamond was tendered to the second respondent (Mrs Mugabe) in Dubai,” Hamed wrote.
“Surprisingly, the second respondent refused to take delivery of the diamond and instead demanded a full remand in Dubai.”

Hamed said he had explained that costs had been incurred in sourcing and polishing the diamond and that, in the event that a refund had to be done, it would have to be back into the Zimbabwe account from which the transfer had been done to avoid charges of externalisation of funds.

“Regrettably, instead of approaching my legal practitioner with repayment proposals to be incorporated into an agreement, or accepting tender of the diamond, the…respondents commenced a reign of terror and harassment where I was verbally threatened, harassed, insulted and told that I could not anything to them as they are in fact ‘Zimbabwe’,” says Hamed.

Following the dispute, Hamed says, armed guards claiming to be from the President’s Office illegally occupied two of his properties in Harare, while locking out his staff from a third.

Coming at a time Zimbabweans are still trying to make sense of the numbers in the 2017 budget, the $1.35 million the Mugabes planned to spend on their anniversary diamond raises inevitable comparisons. Last year, Mugabe, whose family runs a dairy business and some farms, revealed that he was paid $12,000 monthly, including allowances.

With up to 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s medicines being imported and donor funded, the government has allocated $1 million towards the capitalisation of state-owned pharmaceutical company, Natpharm.

Social support to the disabled, elderly and children will do slightly better than the Mugabes’ anniversary gem budget, getting $2.3 million.

Operational support to tertiary institutions is set at $1.5 million, while stipend support for tertiary students has been allocated $2 million in the 2017 budget.

The government, which has largely left its social responsibilities to donors, plans to set aside $10 million for the 65,000 pupils under its Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM). By deduction, the Mugabes’ anniversary diamond is worth the equivalent of what it takes to put 9,000 BEAM beneficiaries through school for a year.

With one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, Zimbabwe allocated maternal and child healthcare programmes $6.9 million in the 2017 budget, the equivalent of five Mugabe anniversary diamonds.

Not much is known about the Mugabes’ businesses, but court cases occasionally provide a rare window into their business dealings.

In 2014, the Government of Zimbabwe sued Taiwanese-born South African businessman Hsieh Ping Sung, claiming ownership of a $5 million Hong Kong luxury apartment the Mugabes’ daughter Bona had used during her university stint there. Previously, in a 2009 interview, Mugabe had denied ownership of the property, saying his daughter was only renting it.

Hsieh Ping Sung, once Mrs Mugabe’s business partner, had fallen out with the first lady over a botched $1 million deal to supply farm trucks and related equipment to the Mugabes’ Mazowe dairy. – Source

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