MULLER Conrad “Billy” Rautenbach (pictured) is one of the most controversial business moguls in Zimbabwe, with several legal challenges against him and his company Green Fuel. Rautenbach, who is into vast mining, fuel and transport businesses, is a friend of the ruling elite and enjoys countless favours from the government.
Together with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his close associate, he was mentioned as having been involved in shady deals involving money laundering and the trading of blood diamonds from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in a 2002 United Nations report on the plunder of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) natural resources.
The looting occurred during the DRC war between 1998 and 2002. The UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, described Rautenbach as a man “whose personal and professional integrity is doubtful”.
The report found a network of Congolese and Zimbabwean political, military and commercial interests that sought to maintain its grip on the main mineral resources, including diamonds, cobalt, copper and germanium of the DRC government-controlled area.
Among the Zimbabwean military-political elite involved in the plunder of DRC resources, the report named Rautenbach, Mnangagwa, then Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe, as well as his family members, the late Perrance Shiri and Sibusiso Moyo, former security minister Sydney Sekeramayi, and chief executive of Oryx Natural Resources, Thamer Bin Said Ahmed Al-Shanfari, an Omani national.
The 62-year-old Rautenbach had fled South Africa in 1999 after being charged with corruption and customs tax fraud. Between 1999 and 2009, he lived as a fugitive until charges against him were withdrawn as part of the 2009 settlement and this was after his company, SA Botswana Hauliers (Sabot) paid a fine of R40 million although Rautenbach never admitted any personal liability.
In 2006, Central African Mining and Exploration Company Plc (CAMEC), a company Rautenbach became involved with, listed on the London Stock Exchange and controversially acquired various mining operations in the DRC.
With the assistance of his father’s trucking business, contacts in transporting minerals, and using innovative mining techniques, he successfully mined state-owned companies and attracted the attention of the DRC government, following Mnangagwa’s recommendation. He has not stopped attracting controversy.
Last year, Harare North Member of the National Assembly and businessman Allan Markham approached the High Court challenging the constitutionality of regulations which made Rautenbach’s Green Fuel the sole supplier of ethanol for blending purposes in Zimbabwe.
Markham is seeking an order to set aside the Petroleum (Mandatory Blending of Anhydrous Ethanol with Unleaded Petrol) Regulations that were published in Statutory Instrument 17 of 2013 arguing that they are unlawful and create demand side and supply side monopoly, which is an infringement of the Competition Act Chapter 14:28.
He has made a fortune from selling ethanol for blending. Rautenbach is also in conflict with Chipinge villagers over land boundaries, with villagers accusing his company Green Fuel of grabbing more land than it is entitled to, as it expands.
In 2008, Rautenbach was involved in a deal which advanced US$100 million to the late former president Robert Mugabe to survive electoral defeat by the late main opposition MDC’s founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai. His ties to the Mugabe regime eventually landed him on the United States and European Union sanctions lists in 2008.
Mugabe had been defeated by Tsvangirai in the first round of polling, and Zanu PF had lost the parliamentary election for the first time in history.
Subsequently, Rautenbach and associated business structures and individuals came to the rescue, changing the course of history. As Mugabe and Zanu PF faced clear defeat and oblivion, the Zimbabwean gambling investments king and long-time party ally found himself at the centre of a complex global network of companies and tycoons entangled in a web of quick-buying and selling of shares in mining entities.
Rautenbach sometimes invests and short-sells shares, which has afforded him political protection initially from top-ranking Mugabe allies, including Mnangagwa. During the March 2008 general elections, Lefever Finance, a Rautenbach-linked enterprise, advanced Zanu PF US$100 million.
The deal came after Rautenbach had gained platinum mining rights after Zanu PF parcelled out Anglo American’s surrendered claims to the government in a bid to comply with indigenisation policy rules.
Under pressure to comply with Mugabe’s empowerment policy shareholding benchmarks, in 2006 Anglo American, operating as Implats, gave up an estimated 30% of its claims to the government. Bankrupt Zanu PF then sold these for a song to its political allies and business associates.
Implats was forced in 2006 to cede sections of its Hartley and Selukwe Complexes to the government as part of an indigenisation and economic empowerment drive.
The government then apportioned the surrendered mining claims into four sections with one claim at the time in Darwendale given to British, Chinese and Russian investors, including army-linked Russchrome.
In 2007, Rautenbach-linked company Lefever Finance, registered in the British Virgin Islands, expressed interest in acquiring the then Implats’ Selukwe Complex claims.
In 2008, the year of landmark elections in Zimbabwe, American investors Lehman Brothers held a 14.07% equity and later disposed of it, while international Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, bought 6% of Camec, listed on the LSE, in May 2008.
Lefever was owned by Camec which was listed on the LSE’s subsidiary market, Alternative Investment Market (Aim) from 2002 to 2009.
Camec had vast mining interests in the DRC, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Despite his significant role in funding elections in Zimbabwe, hence influencing national politics, Rautenbach has remained rather inscrutable. – News Hawks