Zimbabwe’s Prophet-Diplomat Offered to Launder Millions Through Gold-Smuggling Scheme
Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) conducted an undercover operation, during which Zimbabwe’s ambassador-at-large and presidential envoy, Uebert Angel, offered to use his status to launder millions of dollars through a gold-smuggling scheme.
Angel Offers Diplomatic Clout for Money Laundering
The 44-year-old offered to facilitate a scheme through which unaccounted cash could be exchanged for Zimbabwe’s gold, and the precious metal could be sold for legitimate money, effectively turning the cash clean. Angel claimed that his laundering operations had the approval of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who appointed him as a diplomat in March 2021 and who Angel says has been in power since November 2017.
Gold Smuggling Gangs Thrive in Southern Africa
Angel made the offer during an operation that was part of Gold Mafia, an investigation into several gold-smuggling gangs in southern Africa, with Zimbabwe and South Africa as key hubs. These gangs have turned Western sanctions meant to target Zimbabwe’s government into an opportunity to smuggle large quantities of gold and launder hundreds of millions of dollars through a complex web of companies and bribes.
Zimbabwe Needs Dollars and Smugglers Profit
Zimbabwe needs dollars because the country’s own currency has lost its value in international trade due to hyperinflation. A commodity like gold is a good way to trade for dollars. However, international sanctions imposed on the country make it difficult for the government to export gold. Smugglers have seized the opportunity and have turned Zimbabwe into fertile ground for money launderers who can help the country earn dollars in exchange for gold.
Gold-for-Dirty-Money Scheme Needs Initial $10 Million Investment
Central to Angel’s gold-for-dirty money operations is the Zimbabwe Miners Association’s president, Henrietta Rushwaya, who is also President Mnangagwa’s niece. She proposed that smuggling 100kg of gold each week would be no problem. The scheme would need an initial investment of $10 million of dirty cash into the government’s gold refinery, Fidelity. Once the gold is bought, it will then be sold internationally for legitimate, clean cash.
Money Laundering Used to Build Properties near Victoria Falls
The gang also offered to help launder money by building properties near the tourist town of Victoria Falls, which Angel claimed would be appreciated by Mnangagwa because it would allow him “to cut a ribbon,” and build his legacy as a leader who brought visible infrastructure investments into Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Losing Billions USD in Illegal Gold Exports
Tendai Biti, former Zimbabwe minister of finance, told Al Jazeera that although gold trade by law should be overseen by the central bank, the vast majority of gold is smuggled out of the country. He claims that the country is losing about a billion USD in illegal gold exports which is a euphemism for gold smuggling.
No Response to Al Jazeera’s Investigation
When asked for a response to Al Jazeera’s investigation, Fidelity denied all involvement in money laundering or smuggling. Mnangagwa, Angel, Doolan, and Rushwaya did not respond to inquiries.
The investigation has revealed how organized criminals manipulate political power within southern Africa and turn Western sanctions on Zimbabwe’s government into opportunities to smuggle gold and launder cash.