Econet faces black market, externalising forex charges

A man reads a message on data bundles from mobile telecoms operator Econet Wireless on his mobile phone in Harare, Zimbabwe, January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
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THE country’s biggest mobile money provider, Econet Wireless was allegedly involved in black market activities between January and June which saw the company crediting huge sums of money to “runners” who bought foreign currency which the company externalised.

The revelations are contained in an affidavit signed by investigations officer, Detective Inspector and Officer-in-Charge of the Criminal Investigations’ Asset Unit, Mkhululi Nyoni, that is accompanying a court warrant obtained by police to search and take some financial records and subscription database of the company as part of investigating accusations of money laundering.

According to the affidavit signed on Friday, Econet allegedly violated sections of the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act (Chapter 9:24).

“On 9 July 2020, information was received to the effect that during the period extending from 01 January 2020 to 30 June 2020, Econet Wireless (Pvt) Ltd and its subsidiaries have been fraudulently creating and issuing non-attributable and non-auditable subscribers merchants billers and agents which they credited with huge sums of money and distributed to their runners through their trust accounts. The runners would in turn buy foreign currency in the black market before being externalised,” the affidavit reads.

In the affidavit, police applied to see the list of subscribers/customers both registered and unregistered on the Econet Wireless database with full subscriber details for the period from January to June. In addition, police also want to check the summary of transient e-money/airtime credit service posited on the platform through airtime loans for the same period and all financial statements showing the entire inflow and outflow monetary transactions.

According to the warrant of search and seizure obtained by police, it is suspected that the company is in possession of documents, information or records which are required to afford evidence in a criminal docket for the purpose of investigating the crime.

Since the beginning of the year, Zimbabwe saw massive black market activities that were mainly carried out through mobile money transactions that continued to erode the value of the local dollar. Last month, the Government through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe responded by banning all money agents from mobile financial transactions although the general public was allowed to continue to transact using the platforms.

The Central Bank also directed that all merchant transactions have been suspended except for receiving payments for goods and services as well as payment of utilities (water, power and airtime) but limited to $5 000 per day. During the time the Government described EcoCash as “the central pivot of the galloping black market exchange rate”.

The Government argued that the practice has contributed to incessant price hikes of goods and services that are bedevilling the economy and causing hardship to the people of Zimbabwe. It added that it has evidence that millions of dollars were being transferred by merchants using mobile money platforms to street runners in the black market for foreign exchange, giving them the funds to buy foreign currency. Money changers using the EcoCash platform had flooded the country’s towns and cities mopping up foreign currency from the streets, but their activities have since gone down after the intervention by Government to tighten operations of mobile money transactions.

Source – Sunday News