How Swiss Bank That Saved Sani Abacha Loots Also Financed Violence In Zimbabwe’s 2008 Election, Reinforced Mugabe’s Regime

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An investigation into the operations of Credit Suisse, one of the world’s biggest private banks, shows the bank helped provide funds for the mine purchase, which eventually earned over $100 million for the late Robert Mugabe’s crony who set up the deal.

Details from the Suisse Secrets leak have shed new light on Credit Suisse’s role in a controversial platinum mine sale that helped finance a wave of violence around Zimbabwe’s 2008 election.

Research on the story was provided by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project ID, while data expertise was provided by OCCRP’s Data Team. It was fact-checked by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.

In 2008, Zimbabwe was at a turning point. President Robert Mugabe faced electoral defeat by pro-democracy challengers for the first time in two decades. Suddenly, his cash-starved regime received a surprise $100 million, which it allegedly funnelled into a violent campaign that enforced the status quo, and kept Zimbabwe on the road to an economic disaster from which it is yet to recover.

Now, leaked data from Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse has shed new light on the role the bank played in the deal that saved Mugabe from potential defeat and blocked an opportunity for political and economic reform.

The $100 million came from the sale of platinum mining rights that Mugabe’s government had quickly appropriated, then given to a company owned by Muller Conrad “Billy” Rautenbach, a longtime friend of the regime. Mugabe’s regime used the proceeds of the deal to pay for the president’s campaign of violence, according to multiple reports.

Rautenbach and Credit Suisse knew each other well. They both owned a large share of the same company: Central African Mining and Exploration Company (CAMEC). By mid-2007 the bank owned six percent of CAMEC through its London-based investment subsidiary, Credit Suisse Securities Ltd.

Credit Suisse touted Rautenbach as a key asset in the region. Its mining analysts promoted CAMEC in the press and in briefing notes, telling investors the company was a “new major in the making,” and a possible rival to mining behemoth Xstrata.

Credit Suisse also gave CAMEC, which was listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market index, a $60 million line of credit, which the company fully used.

On March 4, 2008, a chain of events began that would quickly get the Mugabe administration the money it needed for its re-election campaign while also earning Rautenbach a sizable profit. It started when Rautenbach opened two accounts with Credit Suisse, according to leaked bank records that are part of the Suisse Secrets investigation, coordinated by OCCRP and based on a huge trove of banking data leaked to Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Then, two weeks later, the Zimbabwean government strong-armed mining company Anglo American into handing over a tranche of land that included the rights for mining platinum there. The government immediately transferred those rights to Rautenbach’s offshore company and a state mining company.

CAMEC announced a few days later, on March 28, that it would issue 200 million shares of its stock worth about 100 million British pounds ($1.99 million). One of the buyers that helped finance the controversial deal was reportedly Credit Suisse, which bought an unknown number of shares. The majority of shares was bought by Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, a U.S.-based hedge fund (now called Sculptor Capital Management).

Two weeks later, on April 11, 2008, CAMEC bought out Rautenbach’s company for $5 million and 215 million CAMEC shares. CAMEC provided its new company with $100 million to enable it “to comply with its contractual obligations” to Mugabe’s government, according to CAMEC’s stock market filings. But the money does not appear to have been used for meeting any obligation, or doing any mining. Instead, the company was widely reported to have transferred the funds to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF political party.

With a flurry of activity, the entire process was completed in less than three weeks. CAMEC had its mining rights, the Mugabe regime had $100 million, and Rautenbach had pocketed a substantial sum.

The $100 million arrived within weeks of Mugabe losing the first round of elections to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. With a run-off vote looming, and money in the bank to pay thugs and supporters, the ZANU-PF set to work delivering on a threat to punish anyone who betrayed them at the ballot box.

Within days of the money arriving, a three-month campaign of terror had started.

Soldiers and armed gangs unleashed Operation Makavhoterapapi? (‘Where did you put your vote?’), in which more than 100 people were killed and over 1,000 attacked. Opposition leader Tsvangirai was forced to flee the country only four days after the $100 million arrived with the regime. With the opposition decimated by violence, Mugabe went uncontested into the next round.

“That money totally brought about all the heartache, pain, gerrymandering, violence, intimidation, repression that took place at the 2008 election,” said Roy Bennett, a former anti-Mugabe politician, on a Zimbabwean radio show in 2012. “[The election violence] is directly linked to that $100 million.”

Three days after the platinum deal closed, and as Zimbabwe descended into violence, a Credit Suisse research paper lauded CAMEC as one of its “African 20” stock picks.

There is no evidence that Credit Suisse knew about the planned corruption but it should have seen that the deal was suspicious. A classified U.S. State Department cable, sent May 23, 2008, and later released by Wikileaks, described the sale as a “swiftly concluded and murky deal.”

After Sani Abacha died in 1998, it was discovered that Credit Suisse had helped stash some of the billions of dollars the dictator’s family had looted from his country.

The Swiss Federal Banking Commission found that Credit Suisse ignored anti-money laundering rules when accepting $214 million in deposits from two sons of the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.

Two years later, the Swiss Banking Association fined Credit Suisse 750,000 Swiss francs ($505,100) over its handling of Abacha family funds but the bank faced no criminal charges

Following the scandal, Credit Suisse pledged to accept in future “only those clients whose source of wealth and funds can be reasonably established to be legitimate”.

To defuse the fallout from that revelation, the bank’s then-chairman said in 2000 that it had “continuously improved … control procedures and compliance with them.”

Later that year, Credit Suisse became a founding member of the Wolfsberg Group, an international banking association assembled to curb illicit financial flows.

“The bank will endeavour to accept only those clients whose source of wealth and funds can be reasonably established to be legitimate,” read a Wolfsberg Group mission statement in 2000.

Yet Credit Suisse’s promises to clean up did little to prevent its entanglement in criminal cases for many years to come.

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