Henrietta Rushwaya, believed to be related to the president, is a prominent figure in the ruling Zanu-PF party and head of the miners’ federation.
Zimbabwe’s first lady and her son have been named as accomplices in a gold smuggling ring along with a woman found to have 14 gold bars in her handbag as she boarded a flight to Dubai.
Auxillia Mnangagwa, 57, and Collins Mnangagwa, 33, were implicated after the arrest of Henrietta Rushwaya, who tried to pass through an airport scanner last Monday with gold worth £280,000.
Ms Rushwaya’s arrest threatens to lift the lid on an elite trafficking cartel that is estimated to cost the bankrupt state millions of pounds every month.
In an interview with police, a colleague who was also held for attempting to interfere in the arrest, claimed that Ms Rushwaya was taking the 6kg haul to the United Arab Emirates on behalf of President Mnangagwa’s wife and son.
Gift Karanda, 44, told detectives that Ms Rushwaya was a courier for Mrs Mnangagwa and her son, a soldier turned businessman.
Ms Rushwaya, 53, believed to be related to the president, is a prominent figure in the ruling Zanu-PF party and head of the miners’ federation.
Published police documents claim that Mr Karanda said the seized gold “belonged to the first lady and Collins, who was supposed to have brought it but had requested Rushwaya to transport it on his behalf”.
In July, the president’s son was linked to a £45 million scandal over coronavirus facemasks and test kits that led to the sacking and arrest of Obadiah Moyo, the health minister. He denied any wrongdoing.
Hopewell Chin’ono, 49, the journalist who helped to expose the corruption, was arrested and held in brutal conditions in prison for five weeks.
Mrs Mnangagwa, the president’s second wife, wrote on Facebook that she and her son had been “falsely implicated . . . and had no dealings nor involvement with Ms Henrietta Rushwaya of any illegal kind”. She added: “I do not engage in illegal, narrow-minded pursuits like gold smuggling.”
Seven people have been arrested in connection with the case, including Stephen Chenjerai Tserayi, one of the president’s intelligence officers, and two senior police officers.
State prosecutors withdrew an initial offer of bail for Ms Rushwaya after evidence of a wider smuggling ring emerged.
She had said that she was flying the gold to Dubai on behalf of a licensed Pakistani dealer but could produce none of the required export papers.
Ms Rushwaya denies the charges, which include offering a $5,000 bribe to the airport officer who found the gold. Court documents said that CCTV cameras were switched off while she passed through security. A full bail hearing begins today.
Mrs Mnangagwa began her career as a secretary in the prime minister’s office before being trained as a spy. She has been married to Mr Mnangagwa, 77, for 34 years and they have three children.