TIMB boss in court over US$2m fraud charge

TIMB boss

TOBACCO Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) chief executive Meanwell Gudu yesterday appeared before a Harare magistrate facing criminal abuse of office charges involving US$2 million.

Gudu (52) appeared before magistrate Taurai Manuwere alongside co-accused Stuart Shanyuka, TIMB former head (special services) and Andrew Evaristo Matibiri, a former TIMB chief executive officer.

Gudu was granted $200 000 bail, while his accomplices were released on free bail.

Allegations are that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) in 2018 introduced a tobacco financing facility to support small-scale tobacco farmers with farming inputs and working capital.

On September 10, 2018 a memorandum of agreement was signed between RBZ as the provider of the funds for the facility, Agribank now AFC Commercial Bank as the agent and TIMB as the borrower.

TIMB was to procure inputs, provide funds for capital expenditure and disburse the inputs to small-scale tobacco farmers.

RBZ released $86 800 000 in local currency into Agribank for financing the facility.

TIMB used the money to source foreign currency from Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco, Chidziva and Curverid Tobacco, players in the tobacco industry.

The State alleges that just before the start of the 2020/2021 farming season, contrary to provisions of the agreement, the accused persons working in connivance entered into private agreements with Bigway Leaf Tobacco, Ethical Leaf Tobacco, Central Leaf Tobacco and Bindura Tobacco.

It is alleged that they hand-picked the companies in a deal corruptly designed to support the firms with inputs from the RBZ-funded scheme for on-lending to their contracted tobacco growers, giving them a competitive advantage over the other contractors.

The four contractors would get inputs for free to lend to their contracted farmers at an interest and buy the grown tobacco from the farmers as if they had funded the farmers themselves.

During the 2020-21 tobacco farming season, inputs worth US$2 803 376 were disbursed to the four contactors, with US$352 040 disbursed to Bigway Leaf.

The accused persons also acted contrary or inconsistent with their duties as public officers by unilaterally assigning or ceding their obligations against the provisions of section 8 of the contract between TIMB, RBZ and Agribank.

The State further alleges that RBZ was prejudiced of US$2 million, and nothing was recovered.

Meanwhile, Gudu was also charged alongside Tsitsi Murahwa for criminal abuse of office after they illegally hand-picked one Dorcas Bhebhe for the position of human capital partner — talent and organisational development.

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