By Lance Guma 21 July 2010
Many Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom will be familiar with a company called Southern Union, which they used to send millions of pounds in cash to their relatives back home. Unknown to the thousands who used the service the company is alleged to have been used by exposed Russian spy Anna Chapman in a money smuggling operation involving a syndicate linked to the Mugabe regime.
According to British newspaper the Daily Mail, Chapman was behind black market deals worth millions of pounds while working with a businessman introduced to her by her father, who is a diplomat in the Russian Embassy in Zimbabwe. She is said to have got the job at Southern Union via Ken Sharpe, a Harare based businessman with strong Russian and Ukrainian contacts. During her stint with the company Chapman moved cash from British bank accounts to those in Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabweans wanting to send cash home from the UK would pass it to Ms Chapman and her husband who, through international accounts with British banks, would offer a superior exchange rate to anything else on the black market, and wire the sterling to accounts in the African state,” the Daily Mail reported. Several more millions of pounds are said to have been traded in similar fashion on behalf of the business community in Zimbabwe.
On the Zimbabwean side of the operation, a ‘bagman’, known as Vitaly, distributed the money in cash to the recipients. When spiraling inflation began to affect the operation the syndicate began to trade in gold ingots and gems to secure foreign currency which would then make its way back into bank accounts. The Daily Mail spoke to a former client who said; ‘We had Russians and Ukrainians running most of the business from our offices in Harare. Businesses all over Zimbabwe relied on us. We were not the only money-smugglers but we were the biggest.’
So how do Zimbabweans in the Diaspora ensure they do not deal with companies that are involved in these sorts of activities? Exiled investment banker Gilbert Muponda told Newsreel most governments in the West had introduced stringent anti-money laundering measures and registration requirements for money transfer agents. He urged customers to make sure the companies they dealt with were registered