Inside NetOne scandal: Mnangagwa fires suspended NetOne boss

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Fired NetOne chief executive Lazarus Muchenje
  • NetOne board sought President Emmerson Mnangagwa to terminate CEO contract
  • Scandal opens a cane of worms exposing corruption in the judiciary system
  • The fired CEO still faces criminal charges at the magistrate courts

 
THE NetOne board of directors this week sought President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s approval to terminate the contract of the suspended chief executive officer Lazarus Muchenje, the Zim Morning Post has learnt.

The latest move brings to an end a long legal battle between NetOne and its former CEO which commenced soon after Muchenje was accused of corruption and abuse of office two years ago.

The legal battle has also opened a cane of worms as it also brings on the spotlight issues to do with efficiency and integrity in the judiciary service delivery system.

Muchenje’s woes commenced in 2018 when he was first suspended amid allegations of corruption and abuse of office. He was reinstated in 2019 and in March 2020 he was suspended again after being arrested on criminal abuse of office charges.

Currently, Muchenje is yet to be cleared by the magistrate courts on criminal allegations which include the fraudulent purchase of furniture for personal use with board approval, signing an agreement which paused cybersecurity threat to the government, the lease agreement scandal and money laundering among other administrative charges.

Judiciary system on the spotlight

The NetOne-Muchenje debacle has put on spotlight inefficiencies and the integrity of the judiciary system amid reports that NetOne had to write a letter of complaint to the Judge President George Chiweshe taking a swipe at the High Court judge Webster Chinamora.

Insiders told Zim Morning Post that Muchenje challenged his termination in August and made an urgent High Court chamber application.

“The case was brought before Chinamora who failed to pass the judgement four months down the line,” the source said.

“NetOne had to write to Chiweshe but even up to now there is no response.

“The urgency of the application has since ceased to make sense and has put the efficiency of the justice delivery system on the spotlight in protecting the government interests in NetOne.”

Sources said having failed to get recourse via the courts, the NetOne board last week wrote to Mnangagwa seeking his approval to terminate Muchenje’s contract in terms of Public Entities and Corporate governance Act.

“The approval was granted and on Friday a termination letter was served to Muchenje while he was at the magistrate courts.

The termination comes at a time when insiders said Muchenje had always said noone besides Mnangagwa could terminate his contract.

Muchenje criminal cases

Muchenje is facing a number of criminal cases at the Rotten Row magistrates courts.

In one of the cases the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission (Zacc) and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Serious Frauds Unit are preferring criminal charges on alleged reports of financial illicit dealings at the state-owned telecommunication company.

Sources close to the development say Muchenje and his fellow accused are facing a plethora of charges including prejudicing the state of over US$2 million over an illegal interconnection scandal that threatened the country’s cybersecurity.

Documents in this publication’s possession reveal that in November 2019, Muchenje his acting Finance officer Tinashe Severa prejudiced NetOne of US$2,240 million “after unlawfully signing an interconnect agreement with Bankai International Private Limited, dated December 10 2019.”

Sources also say despite this being a financial scam which benefited the NetOne bosses, the state also placed a charge linked to a degree of terrorism amid reports the interconnection deal allowed foreigners to access private information of the locals without being detected.

Muchenje is also under investigation for criminal abuse of office after a recent forensic audit unearthed that he fraudulently awarded himself a holiday allowance of ZWL89 5000 and a December bonus of ZWL507 000 without board approval.

In another case, it is also alleged Muchenje was getting an illegal housing benefit which saw NetOne losing US$363,875.

Muchenje also allegedly acquired personal security and misrepresented on documentation that the security was 24-hours at the NetOne building when in fact the guard provided security only to him.

Muchenje also allegedly hired top-of-range vehicles several times from Breakfront Car Hire prejudicing NetOne of US$225,925.

NetOne board sought Mnangagwa audience

Sources told the Zim Morning Post that after having noted how the judiciary system has been compromised the board had no other option but to seek Mnangagwa’s audience.

“In one of its meetings the board agreed to seek Mnangagwa’s audience via the ICT ministry.

“The board agreed to use an alternative route by seeking the presidents endorsement,” the source said.

“The board then approached its parent ministry for such an endorsement and the president granted their request.

“Yesterday (Friday) Muchenje was served with termination papers,” the source said.

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