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AIDS charity fights to reclaim funds stolen by RBZ
Alex Bell, SW Radio Africa
October 28, 2013

A leading HIV/AIDS charity will later this week take the under pressure Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) to court, in the latest legal challenge against the bank’s theft of foreign currency.

On Thursday officials from the RBZ, as well as officials from Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) will appear at the High Court, accused of misappropriating an estimated $500, 000 from the Zimbabwe Aids Network (ZAN).

In 2008, StanChart was forced to transfer the ZAN donor funded cash to the RBZ, after it ‘centralised’ all foreign currency accounts in 2007. This was part of efforts to stem the imminent collapse of the economy, which had suffered from years of economic misuse and bad policies by the then Zanu-PF led government.

The ‘centralised’ order saw authorised dealers of forex being forced to hand over their clients’ money to the RBZ, which resulted in more than a billion dollars worth of foreign cash being seized.

The ZAN, being represented by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) will be having a pre-trial conference this Thursday with the RBZ and StanChart as the First and Second respondents in the case. ZLHR spokesperson Kumbirai Mafunda told SW Radio Africa that the ZAN’s stolen cash was meant to be used to assist with the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS.

“Zimbabwe has a high rate of HIV infection and this money could have been used in this fight. So we are just trying to assist Zimbabweans to recover what belongs to them,” Mafunda said.

The ZAN’s case is the latest in a series of legal suits against the RBZ’s theft of the money, through financial groups like StanChart. Most recently a Chinese-owned firm in Kwekwe, China Shougang International, earlier this month won its case against Stanchart, after its funds were seized following the RBZ order.

Stanchart argued that it was not liable and urged the Chinese firm to approach the RBZ instead. But the Supreme Court overruled this, and ordered StanChart to pay the firm almost $50, 000.

The High Court in June also ordered the central bank to return over US$1 million to the Trojan Nickel Mine firm, whose funds were seized through its BancABC account. The RBZ is appealing the High Court decision, and has said the matter should be taken before BancABC.

Economist John Robertson told SW Radio Africa that a dangerous precedent has been set where the banking institutions are being held liable for the RBZ’s orders.

“They (the banks) certainly need to be worried… they did not have the option to withhold the money from the RBZ. So that should have been part of the court’s reasoning. And if they are forced to find the money they might have to liquidate reserves and assets,” Robertson said, warning that this move would have detrimental, knock on affects.

He added: “The RBZ is unable to fulfill its own responsibilities and doesn’t have the reserves to fulfill any other responsibilities. So it’s an extremely messy situation that needs to be properly decided on.”

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