Zimbabwe mobile operator denies money-laundering charge

Econet Wireless chief executive Douglas Mboweni denied a charge of money laundering and called a search warrant issued by the police “unlawful”.
Econet Wireless chief executive Douglas Mboweni denied a charge of money laundering and called a search warrant issued by the police “unlawful”.
Image: GRAHAM TIMMS

Zimbabwe's top mobile telephone operator Econet Wireless on Monday denied a charge of money laundering and called a search warrant issued by the police “unlawful”.

When it issued the warrant last week, police said they were investigating the company for suspected money laundering.

Investigators want the telecoms operator to disclose customers' details and records of all transactions conducted within the first half of 2020.

“The warrant of search and seizure is unlawful and constitutes a violation of the applicant's right to privacy and also the right to privacy of the applicant's subscribers,” Econet Wireless chief executive Douglas Mboweni said in papers filed at the High Court.

“The warrants are calculated to enrage Econet's subscribers and drive them to other mobile operators,” he added.

Mboweni said a senior ruling ZANU-PF party official blamed Econet Wireless and insurance company Old Mutual for a fall in the value of the Zimbabwe dollar.

Chris Mutsvangwa, an ex-cabinet minister recently appeared on television threatening Econet with action similar to the 2017 military coup that ousted long-time ruler Robert Mugabe.

“The reference to the coup betrays an agenda to destroy Econet and remove it from its market leadership position for the benefit of another operator,” Mboweni said.

Econet claims more than 10 million subscribers in the southern African country.

“What the warrant of search and seizure does is to criminalise the whole nation and invade the right to privacy and dignity of the whole nation without any valid reason,” Mboweni charged.

Last month, the government abruptly suspended mobile money transactions provided by telephone operators, the most widely used platform to make and receive payments in the crisis-ridden country.

The services continued for daily individual transactions but were capped for commercial transactions.

Government spokesman Nick Mangwana blamed mobile money transfer platforms for galloping inflation, and said the government was in “possession of impeccable intelligence” that telephone service providers were involved in illicit activities that sabotaged the economy.

The government also suspended trade on the country's stock exchange, which it accused of being complicit in illicit financial activities.

Mobile money payments account for most electronic payment transactions in Zimbabwe, which is critically short of bank notes.

The country has been hit by its worst economic crisis in more than a decade, which has led to shortages of basic necessities such as fuel and cornmeal. — AFP



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