Harare – A wealthy Zimbabwean businessman Billy Rautenbach has been named in the Panama Papers that detail how businesses, politicians and prominent individuals circumvented sanctions and avoided tax through the formation of shell companies.
Billy Rautenbach is viewed as a top ally of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe. He is the driving force behind the Green Fuels project, Zimbabwe’s sole ethanol producing plant in Chisumbanje in eastern Zimbabwe, and also owns various properties in the country. It is mandatory for all petrol sold in Zimbabwe to be blended with ethanol from Chisumbanje.
In leaked documents, Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca is accused of helping companies, celebrities, businessmen and politicians launder money through illicit financial flows, shell companies, offshore accounts and sanctions busting. Rautenbach is named in the documents through Ridgepoint Overseas Developments Ltd.
The leaked documents have drawn the ire of authorities in Zimbabwe, who want companies and individuals named in the papers to be probed for tax evasion. A government official told Fin24 on Tuesday that the issue would be taken up by the central bank and the tax authority.“Foreign Exchange regulations may have been violated by both the companies and the individuals and the central bank will take this up. Foreign currency externalisation has become a major worry and tax authorities will be instructed to look into this in detail,” said the official, declining to be named.
Rautenbach’s company allegedly listed Mossack Fonseca’s office in the British Virgin Islands as its official office address and was on US Sanctions against Zimbabwe until about 2014. However, the Panamanian law firm denies that it dealt with the company knowing of its alleged ties to Zimbabwe.
“If for some reason, unbeknownst to us, some company formed by us ended up in the hands of people having such relations for whatever criminal or unlawful purpose, we strongly condemn that situation and… will continue taking any measures that are reasonably available to us,” Mossack Fonseca said in a statement on Monday.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has investigated the papers that have implicated global leaders and companies such as Impala Platinum and BHP Billiton.
The Voice of America has quoted Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Dr John Mangudya as saying: “Violation of exchange control rules and regulations is a punishable offence.”
Rautenbach, who was not reachable for comment, is believed to be behind the dropping of Zimbabwean real estate companies by the law firm in 2015 after a memo, citing “recent changes in our organization” and “regulatory matters”, instructed the removal of more than 30 risky businesses from its clientele base.
He is described in a 2009 article by the Mail and Guardian as a controversial Zimbabwean businessman who has parlayed his closeness to the Zanu-PF government into a personal fortune and has an aura of untouchability – despite being a fugitive for a decade.
He fled South Africa shortly after the then Investigating Directorate for Serious Economic Offences launched a raid in November 1999 on his Wheels of Africa Group, which included Hyundai Motor Distributors, the M&G further states.
Who is Billy Rautenbach
Rautenbach has taken many different roads to wealthBilly Rautenbach is a controversial and wealthy Zimbabwean businessman.
Born in 1959, he has been involved in numerous business ventures ranging from trucking, car manufacturing and farming to mining in numerous African countries.
In the 1990s, he expanded his family business, Wheels of Africa (WOA), into arguably the largest trucking company in Africa, before turning to car assembly.
In the past, the Mail & Guardian reported that he ran into trouble in the 1990s and fled South Africa after the then Investigating Directorate for Serious Economic Offences launched a raid in November 1999 on WOA.
Between December 1999 and January 2000, most of the South African and Botswanan-registered companies in the WOA Group were placed under liquidation, leaving debts in excess of R1-billion in South Africa and R900-million in Botswana.
Rautenbach was sought in connection with fraud relating to the manipulation of import tariffs and the siphoning off of company cash to himself and others using fictitious invoices.
“Close” to Zanu-PF heavyweightsIn 2009, he reached an agreement in which one of his companies pleaded guilty and tendered a R40-million fine, though he personally did not admit liability. Rautenbach is reportedly close to a number of Zanu-PF heavyweights, including Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In 1998, he was appointed chair and managing director of Gecamines, a state-owned mining company in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Zimbabwe sent troops to the DRC to prop up then-president Laurent Kabila. In return, various business ventures were set up to repay the country for its support.
Rautenbach was removed from this position after an audit by Ernst & Young, mainly because, as described in a later United Nations report, “some of Gecamines’s best cobalt-producing areas were transferred to a joint venture between Mr Rautenbach’s Ridgepoint Overseas Developments and the Central Mining Group, a Congolese company, controlled by Pierre-Victor Mpoyo, then minister of state”.
In 2000, the DRC withdrew Rautenbach’s mining concessions, reportedly after he failed to pay over the state’s share of the profits.
But the death of Kabila in January 2001 opened the door for Rautenbach to get back in. By April 2002, he had reached a settlement with the DRC government and had been reallocated several lucrative concessions.
In trouble with the authoritiesRautenbach ran into trouble with the DRC authorities, however, and was deported in 2007.
He made about $50-million from the sale of his shares in the British company Camec, into which he had folded many of his DRC and Zimbabwean mining interests.
Despite massive resistance from the local community, Rautenbach managed to set up Green Fuel, an ethanol-producing company.
Billy Rautenbach’s Greenfuel Plant
More than 130 000 litres of ethanol is leaving the remote rural growth point of Checheche in Manicaland, Zimbabwe for the capital city Harare every day. Its green fuel the world cant get enough of. All this is thanks to ground breaking investment by Zimbabwean investors…Supa Mandiwanzira reports…
In 2009, Rautenbach admitted in a South African court that he gave convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti $100 000 to pay the former South African national police commissioner Jackie Selebi to “sort out his issues”.
In 2011, allegations surfaced through whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks that Rautenbach had told a United States ambassador that he hates January because it is when school fees are due, and many senior government officials approach him for “donations” to pay their children’s fees.