ZIMBABWE: Looted money returned to universities

The Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Gideon Gono, has reimbursed foreign currency looted from university accounts in a development that has also seen him fall out with the country's Finance Minister Tendai Biti. Gono has accused Biti of being behind threats to have his children expelled from foreign universities.

University World News reported on 3 May that the Reserve Bank had raided foreign currency accounts belonging to three universities as well as those of foreign non-governmental organisations last year. The money was used to prop up the regime of President Robert Mugabe, who was on the verge of losing power following a political and economic crisis that had brought the country to its knees.

In April, the central bank chief conceded he had raided university and NGO foreign currency accounts but defended the move as necessary to save Mugabe's cash-strapped government from collapsing.

Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Stan Mudenge, told parliament last month the central bank had repaid all funds taken from university accounts. He said he had documentary proof of the money's repayment but did not reveal the amounts involved.

One of the institutions whose funds were looted was Africa University, a Methodist-related private institution. It did not respond to questions on the funds stolen.

The looting of the funds and other quasi-fiscal activities by Gono led to public clashes between him and Biti, who was appointed under a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister. Biti, a lawyer, is Secretary-General of the MDC.

The clashes prompted Gono to write a letter to Tsvangirai seeking his intervention in the matter. Gono claimed that verbal attacks on him by the Finance Minister had resulted in foreign universities his children were attending had threatened to expel them.

Gono alleged that at a campaign rally in Masvingo last year Biti had called him names and accused him of "being at the epicentre of the Zanu-PF terror machine...an economic saboteur, terrorist and number one Al-Qaeda who deserves to be shot by a firing squad".

He said in the letter that after his three children were "unceremoniously expelled" from Australia before Tsvanvirai's visit to that country in 2006, they lost two years of university education.

When his children enrolled in new universities, "they found themselves being called on to explain how their father is allegedly associated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist organisation, with the threat of further expulsion from their new university if the allegations were not refuted".

"Who among us parents can stomach such misfortune if directed at their own children?" he said.

Gono's children were expelled from Australian universities after the Australian government decided to deport all children whose parents had close links with Mugabe. Also expelled were the children of the Commissioner General of Police and the Defence Minister.

Mugabe and his inner circle, including Gono, are subject to travel restrictions and an asset freeze by the European Union, Australia and the United States because of their appalling human rights record.

Tsvangirai's response to Gono's letter was that he would continue to push for the central bank governor's removal from the post. His and Biti's calls for Gono to step down have been emboldened by donor agencies and the decision by countries such as Britain not to channel aid through the central bank or any other government system before reforms are initiated - at a time when the Zimbabwean government desperately needs external funding to function.

Last week, Mugabe said Gono would not be relieved of his duties as he had saved the country during a difficult period.