Zimbabwe govt accuses mobile phone operator Econet of money laundering

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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HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean police have issued a warrant against the largest mobile phone operator Econet Wireless to hand over a list of its mobile money transactions and subscribers because authorities suspect it of involvement in money laundering, according to the warrant.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has already suspended some of Econet’s mobile money transactions. Authorities last month also halted all trade on the local stock exchange.

In the search warrant issued on Friday night and seen by Reuters, police accused Econet of creating fictitious mobile money and converting it to cash to facilitate purchasing foreign currency on the black market and taking the money out of Zimbabwe.

The central bank has made similar accusations before, which Econet has denied.

A senior Econet official, who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said the government Econet would challenge the move in court.

A spokesman for the company said he could not immediately comment.

The police ordered Econet to provide a list of all subscribers, mobile money transactions and financial statements covering Jan. 2 to June 30 this year “for the purporse of investigating or detecting a case of money laundering.”

Police spokesman Andrew Phiri declined to comment.

Zimbabwe has alarmed investors with its decision to suspend the stock exchange.

Mnangagwa’s ruling ZANU-PF party has asked the government to de-list Old Mutual’s local unit from the Zimbabwe stock exchange, accusing it of fanning the foreign currency black market.

The Zimbabwe dollar, which was brought back last year without any foreign or gold reserves, is in freefall, fuelling inflation to more than 700%.