FORMER Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) chief executive officer Peter Chikumba (59) yesterday pleaded innocent to the fraud charges leveled against him and instead accused the airline’s former legal secretary Grace Pfumbidzayi of unilaterally appointing Navistar Insurance Brokers as the company’s insurers.
BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
Chikumba, who is jointly charged with Pfumbidzayi over allegations of defrauding the airline of millions of dollars, told Harare regional magistrate Fadzai Mtombeni that his co-accused violated company policy regarding the signing of business documents. Chikumba said AirZim’s policy concerning the appointment of insurance providers was clear, but Pfumbidzayi acted contrary to policy.
Pfumbidzayi, he told the court, was supposed to ensure that legal aspects of the contract were watertight before appending her signature, after which she should have presented it to the airline’s management for approval.
Chikumba said Pfumbidayi appointed Navistar as the company’s insurers in a letter dated March 18 2009 and did not copy it to any of the airline’s managers.
“The audit in its findings did not find me responsible for Navistar’s appointment. It does not present evidence relating to an instruction by myself to the effect to appoint Navistar,” Chikumba said. “In its recommendations, the audit summarises the parties indicated to have been involved in the appointment of Navistar and clearly relating to myself the recommendations do not include my name.”
He told the court that when Navistar wrote back thanking him for their appointment, he forwarded the letter to Pfumbidzayi because he was not involved in the transaction. “I referred it to second accused person because she was in charge of that portfolio, but she did not come back to me with relevant action,” he said.
Pfumbidzayi and Chikumba were arrested after an anomaly was discovered by former AirZim board chairman Ozias Bvute pertaining to amounts paid between April 2009 and April 2013 to Navistar Insurance Brokers (Private) Limited in respect of aviation insurance premiums.
Prosecutor Daniel Muchimbiri alleges that the two enlisted the services of Navistar to provide aviation and insurance cover without going to tender and terminated services of other existing companies.
Further allegations are that they inflated aviation insurance premiums over payments made to United Kingdom-based companies Colemont Reinsurance Brokers (Private) Limited and Reinsurance Brokers (Private) Limited. The firm allegedly released ₤15 452, 93 to Navistar and ₤10 607 859,22 to the two British companies while they pocketed ₤5 895 695,49.
In May 2009, it is further alleged, they misrepresented to AirZim that there was urgent need for the airline to pay $142 300 to the European Commission to dodge sanctions and allegedly converted the money to their own use.