By A Correspondent- President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s name has been dropped in a messy land scandal involving controversial Ukranian investors who were given vast tracts of prime land in Harare following the intervention of one of his allies.
A High Court application filed by Harare North MP Allan Norman Markham, together with a company called Tavonga Savings Scheme and a Harare resident, Jacob Pikicha, on March 10, which challenges a deed of settlement between Augur Investments and Harare City Council, claimed that Mnangagwa’s name was used in the process of allocating the land, leading to the “corrupt” deal.
The deed of settlement was signed on May 28, 2019 following the alleged intervention of Local Government minister July Moyo, who according to court papers, claimed to have been sent by the President.
It was signed after protracted legal battles between Augur Investments owned by Ken Sharpe, government and Harare City Council (HCC) over land given to the Ukrainian company for its role in the construction of the Robert Mugabe International Airport Road.
Moyo is said to have claimed that Mnangagwa directed him to withdraw criminal charges levelled against Augur Investments, its associated companies, representatives, directors and to grant them impunity.
The applicants are seeking cancellation of the deed of settlement that saw Augur Investments getting a staggering 709,3424 hectares of prime land in the capital.
The MDC Alliance legislator said Moyo, cited as sixth respondent, had no authority to transfer Stand number 654 Pomona Township measuring about 273,29323 hectares to Augur under deed of transfer number 350/2020.
Mnangagwa was cited as the ninth respondent in an application that is set to test his government’s resolve to fight land barons who have grabbed most prime land in major cities and towns using their links with the ruling party and converted it to residential stands for personal gain.
The applicants said although Mnangagwa had “no direct interest in this matter”, he was “cited as such because to the extent that the sixth respondent (Moyo) is concerned, the Minister of Local Government and Public Works purported to dispose of State land, which is vested in the President under the circumstances where legally only the President can dispose of the land.”
“He thus has interest in protecting the law and most importantly protecting the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” the applicants argued.
They added that the deed of settlement represented a “complete fraud, a massive land heist against the people of Zimbabwe in general and the residents of Harare, who saw (vast tracts of land) being siphoned off by Augur Investments, Kenneth Raydon Sharpe, Tatiana Aleshina and Michael Van Blerk, among others without any value and lawful basis.
They want the deal scrapped because former Harare mayor Herbert Gomba, who represented the city council when the agreement was signed, was not authorised by the local authority to act on its behalf.
In 2008, Augur Investments and council signed an agreement for the construction of the then Harare Airport Road, which stipulated that 90% of the costs would be paid in the form of land while 10% of the payment would be in cash.
Augur Investments failed to deliver according to expectations, forcing council to cancel the deal with about 10km of the road having been covered.
Augur Investments was given the contract on the understanding that it would pay US$4 million compensation to a firm known as Fairclot represented by Russell Grant, which previously held the contract.
However, Augur Investments refused to honour the deal even after losing an arbitration and High Court cases as well as Supreme Court appeals.
Augur Investments only agreed to pay the US$4 million in local currency in 2019 after the government issued a controversial statutory instrument converting foreign currency at a 1:1 rate to the United States dollar.
“Pursuant to this, Augur was then provided with massive pieces of land by the City of Harare,” reads the court application.
“Further, contrary to the understanding between the parties, much of the land was actually transferred to Augur Investments despite the absence of certification by the City of Harare director of works and the consulting engineers that work had been done.”
The application is yet to be set down for hearing.