Zimbabwe mining industry official Henrietta Rushwaya has been fined $5,000 and handed a suspended 18-month jail sentence for attempting to smuggle 6kg of gold worth $333,000 abroad in 2020.
Rushwaya, president of the Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation – and in the traditions of their Shona ethnic group considered President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s niece – was arrested in 2020 as she was about to board a plane from a Zimbabwean airport to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
She features prominently in the Al Jazeera investigative documentary Gold Mafia that aired in late March 2023, in which an undercover investigation team also interviewed, among others, Zimbabwe-born British cleric Ubert Angel and prominent gold dealer Ewan Macmillan disclosing how they conducted the illegal gold trade.
In the documentary, Rushwaya is heard saying she could use her high-level connections to facilitate gold buying and smuggling out of the southern African nation.
In sentencing Rushwaya this week, News24 wrote on November 16, Harare High Court Judge Pisirayi Kwenda noted that she “has no previous convictions” and that “there is no evidence to show that this offence was committed as part of an organised crime”.
When she was busted, she claimed that she had taken the handbag with the 6kg in gold “by mistake.”
Farai Maguwu, executive director at the Harare-based Centre for Natural Resource Governance, told News24 that the sentence on Rushwaya amounted to an incentive for smuggling.
“It will be a major reference in future judgments,” he said. “There is also injustice. The same courts have sentenced poor Zimbabweans to jail for periods ranging from two to five years for merely possessing half a gram of gold they had not stolen from anyone.”
Following the airing of the Gold Mafia documentary, the government announced it would be opening an investigation, promising that any person found to have engaged in acts of corruption, fraud or any form of crime would “face the full wrath of the law”.
The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), an arm of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), later ordered banks to freeze Angel’s and Macmillan’s assets, as well as those of four officials who said that they were paid by the dealers to facilitate the transactions and smuggling.
In 2013, two gold panners were sentenced to five-year jail terms each for possession of gold without mining or prospecting licences. Four years later, a sex worker was jailed for five years for possessing 0.22g of gold.
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