Deputy lands minister Karoro nabbed over GMB fertiliser, maize seed fraud

HARARE – Deputy lands and agriculture minister Douglas Karoro was arrested on Friday night accused of fraud after he sold 700 bags of fertiliser, maize seed worth US$18,000 and 5,000 vegetable seed kits which he took from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) under false pretences.

Karoro is the second person to be arrested over the alleged fraud after Lovejoy Ngowe, the manager of the GMB Mushumbi Pools depot in Mbire appeared in court on Friday. He was remanded in custody to Monday when a court will hear his bail application.

Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police were also expecting to charge three other people who allegedly took part in the scam.

Karoro was expected to appear before a court in Harare on Saturday for his initial remand.

Details of the alleged fraud committed between March and this month were laid out by prosecutor Anesu Chirenje as Ngowe appeared before Harare magistrate Yeukai Dzuda.

It is alleged Karoro approached one Jeremy Phiri and told him that he was looking for buyers for 700 bags of Compound D fertiliser at US$16 per 50kg bag. Phiri is said to have contacted Widdorn Chiodza, who was interested in buying the fertiliser.

On April 21, Phiri allegedly met Chiodza who handed over US$10,700, almost the full price for the fertiliser.

Phiri then allegedly took this money to Karoro, who told him that the fertiliser was at GMB Mushumbi Depot.

That same day at around 3PM, Karoro called depot manager Ngowe and told him that he was sending trucks to collect the Compound D which was part of the Presidential Inputs Scheme.

Ngowe allegedly asked for details of the trucks and was given contact details for Dean Zimunya and the following day Zimunya took Chiodza and three trucks to Mushumbi Pools Depot and loaded the 700 x 50kg bags of fertiliser, with Ngowe issuing goods dispatch vouchers in the name of Karoro.

Chiodza is said to have returned to Harare and offloaded the fertiliser at his residence in Kuwadzana.

Two days after handing over the cash, Chiodza allegedly received a call from Zimunya telling him to return the fertiliser saying the deal had gone sour.

Chiodza refused, whereupon Zimunya and Karoro allegedly then engaged a Mugove Chidamba to help them recover the fertiliser from Chiodza.

After negotiations on April 24, Chidamba managed to recover 400 bags and refunded Chiodza US$6,400.

In a complex arrangement allegedly to cover up the issuance and movement of fertiliser, Karoro and Chidamba allegedly hired transporter Richard Tsiga to ferry the recovered 400 bags to GMB Aspindale purporting that they wanted to swap it with ammonium nitrate. To get the full 700 bags, Chidamba went out and bought another 300 bags of Compound D from Farm & City.

On the following day, Karoro allegedly escorted Tsiga with a truck loaded with 400 bags of Compound D fertiliser to GMB Aspindale for the first part of the swap deal. However, GMB Aspindale refused to accept the fertiliser on the grounds that the documentation was not properly done.

The court heard that it was then that Karoro intervened and negotiated for the swap with the Aspindale GMB chain supply manager, Obert Zhoya.

Zhoya then instructed Ngowe at Mushumbi to raise a depot-to-depot transfer so that they could accept the fertiliser at GMB Aspindale, which Ngowe did and sent the paperwork to Aspindale, which then accepted the 400 bags.

Tsiga’s truck was then loaded with 400 ammonium nitrate bags and he was sent to GMB Mushumbi depot, but they never arrived and this was when the whole deal started unravelling.

The missing consignment came to light later when Karoro allegedly sent another truck with the extra 300 bags of Compound D bought commercially in Harare to GMB Aspindale for the second half of the swap.

This time Aspindale opted to use their own truck to ferry the swapped 300 bags of ammonium nitrate to GMB Mushumbi with a depot-to-depot transfer voucher.

On April 29, Ngowe allegedly confirmed receipt of the 300 bags of ammonium nitrate from GMB Aspindale. But that was when GMB Aspindale’s chain supply manager Zhoya quizzed Ngowe on the whereabouts of the first truck which was loaded with 400 bags of ammonium nitrate destined for Mushumbi depot. He was told it never arrived.

GMB Aspindale asked Karoro to return those 400 bags of ammonium nitrate to GMB Aspindale, as the swap had not taken place. He allegedly contacted Tsiga, who told him that the fertiliser was offloaded at Chidamba’s place. It had been sold.

Karoro then allegedly went to Mbare to a place known as KumaBanana and recovered 200 bags of ammonium nitrate, before he engaged Tsiga to take them back to GMB Aspindale while the deputy minister asked Chidamba to look for the remaining 200 bags of ammonium nitrate.

On April 30, the prosecution says Chidamba went to Dzivaresekwa where he bought 69 bags of cotton calcium ammonium nitrate and 132 bags of calcium ammonium nitrate, which were then transported back to GMB Aspindale in the presence of Karoro.

It is alleged that the stolen fertiliser was worth US$27,300. The prosecution says 501 bags of fertiliser which were of a poor grade and not from GMB were recovered after Karoro tried to use them to plug the gap.

On the maize seed, the prosecution says Ngowe received seed maize worth US$18,030 on March 7 which was meant for the Presidential Input Scheme to benefit the Mbire constituency.

He allegedly connived with Karoro and they converted the seed to their own use.

On March 23, Karoro allegedly received 5,000 vegetable combo kits from Valley Seeds (Private) Limited, which was supposed to be handed over to GMB Mushumbi under the Presidential Inputs Scheme.

He allegedly connived with Ngowe and they converted the seed to their own use.

In a bid to sanitise their alleged misdeeds, Karoro and Ngowe ordered GMB Mushumbi depot inputs clerk, Honesty Nyathi, and security guard, Manyara Manuwere, to create paperwork by fraudulently booking the consignment in the Goods Received Voucher, Goods Dispatch Voucher, Gate Book and Stack Register to appear as if the consignment had been received and despatched to the deputy minister.

GMB allegedly lost US$25,000 in that transaction.

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