Econet appeals against Police’s search warrant

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

ECONET Wireless Private Limited (EWPL) has filed an urgent application to the High Court of Zimbabwe for a stay of execution against a Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) warrant of search and seizure of their premises.

TATIRA ZWINOIRA

On July 17, 2020, ZRP Detective Inspector and Officer in Charge CID Asset Forfeiture Unit Northern Unit, Mkhululi Nyoni, deposed to an affidavit that he is investigating allegations of violations of the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act [Chapter 9:24] by Econet Wireless.

Specifically, the allegations were that during the period January 1 to June 30, 2020, Econet Wireless and its ‘subsidiaries’ created ghost individual subscribers, merchant billers and agents crediting them huge amounts of money to be distributed to their runners through trust accounts.

It is further alleged that these runners would use this digital money to buy foreign currency from the parallel market. Against this background, a warrant of search and seizure was issued by Provincial Magistrate, Richard Ramaboa, for Econet Wireless documents, information or records to help with the investigation.

“The warrant of search and seizure is unlawful and constitutes a violation of the applicant’s (Econet Wireless) right to privacy and also the right to privacy of the applicant’s subscribers. The warrant of search and seizure is also so widely and generally couched that it is susceptible to being set aside,” Econet’s lawyers, Mtetwa and Nyambirai said in an urgent application filed on Monday.

“The present application has been brought on an urgent basis to suspend the warrant of search and seizure pending its setting aside on the return date.”
The police are, investigating the mobile money platform, EcoCash, whose users exceed 10 million which is what the authorities were referring to when they said Econet Wireless ‘subsidiaries’.

EcoCash is part of Cassava SmarTech Zimbabwe Limitied (CSZL), and in 2018, Econet Wireless unbundled its financial technology wing into the separate entity, CSZL.

In an affidavit filed along with the urgent application, Econet Wireless Chief Executive Officer, Douglas Mboweni, revealed that as of July 1, 2020 the company had 11 405 557 mobile subscribers on its platform.

“The interim relief sought is as follows; an order be and hereby granted for a stay of execution of the Warrant of Search and Seizure issued by the 3rd Respondent (Ramaboa) on 17 July 2020, pending the determination of its lawfulness by this Honourable Court on the return date,” he said.

“An order that the 1st and 2nd Respondents (ZRP Commissioner General Godwin Matanga and Nyoni, respectively) pay costs of suit in the event the present application is opposed.”

He said on the return date Econet Wireless will seek the following orders: “That the decision of the 3rd respondent to authorise a warrant of search and seizure in respect of the applicant be and is hereby set aside. That the warrant of search and seizure issued by the 3rd respondent on 17 July 2020 against the applicant be and is hereby declared unlawful and set aside.”

Mboweni added: “In the event that the warrant of search and seizure issued by the 3rd Respondent on 17 July 2020 had been executed by the time of this order, the respondents and anyone who acted through the authority of the warrant of search and seizure be and is hereby ordered to forthwith restore all articles seized from the applicant”. – The Zimbabwe Independent