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Mobile money: Econet Zimbabwe accused of money laundering

Zimbabwean police have accused the country’s largest telecom operator Econet Wireless of money laundering. They have thus issued a warrant asking it to hand over a list of its mobile money transactions and subscribers.

In Friday’s search warrant, police specialist investigator Mkhululi Nyoni said he had “reasonable grounds to suspect that Econet Wireless is involved in money laundering activities”.

Police said there is information that the firm has fraudulently created fake subscribers to transfer mobile money to other accounts, to be converted to cash. “The runners would in turn buy foreign currency in the black market before being externalised (abroad),” said the warrant. The company, which has some 10.5 million customers, was ordered to surrender all the requested documents within seven days.

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.

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 Econet would challenge the move in court.

In a dramatic move, the government last month abruptly suspended mobile money transactions provided by telephone operators, the most widely used platform to make and receive payments in the crisis-ridden country. The services continued for daily individual transactions but were capped for merchant transactions.

Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana blamed mobile money transfer platforms for galloping inflation and said that the government was in “possession of impeccable intelligence” that telephone service providers were involved in illicit activities that were sabotaging the country’s economy. The government also suspended all trade on the country’s stock exchange, which it accused of being complicit in illicit financial activities.

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.


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