Finance Minister Christopher Kuruneri became the first big gun in President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet to be caught up in “Cyclone Gono” when he was arrested on Saturday, 24 April, for externalising funds. He is reported to have externalised US$1.082 million, 34 471 British pounds and 30 000 Euros.
Kuruneri made headlines in the South African Sunday Times last month when it broke a story that he was building a R30 million mansion in the exclusive suburb of Llandudno in Cape Town. The mansion has eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a dining room big enough to accommodate 20 people and three garages.
He also owns another property in the same suburb which he bought for R2.7 million in 2002 and is reported to own shares in a block of apartments at Sea Point.
Kuruneri is said to have bought the properties through his company Choice Decisions, where he is the sole director.
But what seems to be more damaging and is a great embarrassment to Mugabe is that Kuruneri had two passports, one a Canadian one. Dual citizenship is prohibited in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe promoted Kuruneri on February 9 to spearhead the recovery programme together with central bank governor Gideon Gono.
Though Kuruneri has argued that what he did was above the law because he earned the money he used to buy the properties from consultancy work for Mobile Systems International and Felipe Solano, the law says if one earns any money while resident in Zimbabwe, that money must be brought into the country.
Most people are now watching to see how Kuruneri will be treated because the law under which he was arrested allows for detention without being brought before the courts for up to a month.
This is not the first time Kuruneri has had trouble with the law. He was charged with corruption in the early 1990s when he was general manager of the Urban Development Corporation.
He was alleged to have influenced the corporation to buy a property from Chris Mushonga, who he wanted to enter into business with, for $5 million. He was cleared of this case in November 1994. Mushonga had bought the property for $15 000 in 1984.
According to the Sunday Mirror, Kuruneri failed to pay a debt of $19 702 he had been loaned by the now defunct Universal Merchant Bank. The paper said tenders worth $5 billion mysteriously disappeared from Zimpost when Kuruneri was with the Ministry of Transport and Communications. And in 2001, property belonging to Quality Packaging Products, a company linked to Kuruneri was attached over a $130 000 debt.
Kuruneri’s departure, which could also see him lose his cabinet post, is not likely to derail the current economic recovery programme because Gono has been calling the shots. And he seems to be on track and he has raised more foreign currency in 3 months (US$335.5 million) than the country realised in 12 months last year (US$301.7 million), and has managed top reduce inflation from 623 percent in January to 583.7 percent in March.