Lawyer says establishing Mugabe’s assets will take a long time

FILE PHOTO:  Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe reads a card during his 93rd birthday celebrations in Harare
FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe reads a card during his 93rd birthday celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

December 3, 2019

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – The process of establishing the assets of the late Robert Mugabe will take some time, his lawyer said on Tuesday, casting doubt on a state media report that the former Zimbabwean leader left $10 million and some properties in the capital.

Zimbabweans have speculated for years about Mugabe’s wealth, with many assuming that he and his family amassed a vast fortune – perhaps as much as $1 billion, according to a leaked U.S. cable from 2001 – during his 37 years in power.

The government-owned Herald newspaper said Mugabe’s daughter Bona Chikowore wrote in October, the month after her father’s death, to the High Court seeking to register the estate.

The paper listed assets including $10 million in a local bank, four houses in Harare, 10 cars, one farm, his rural home and an orchard.

One of the properties is the palatial home known as Blue Roof in an upmarket suburb where Mugabe lived.

The list does not include several farms that he reportedly owned or a dairy business he ran with his wife Grace, or any property outside Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s lawyer, Terrence Hussein, told Reuters that the Master of the High Court would this week appoint an executor to compile Mugabe’s assets and liabilities.

He said the properties listed in the Herald report were not in Mugabe’s name while his rural homestead had no title because all communal land in Zimbabwe is owned by traditional chiefs.

Blue Roof and another house in Harare are owned by the ruling ZANU-PF party, although President Emmerson Mnangagwa has previously promised to transfer them to the Mugabe family.

COMPILE ASSETS

“The first task of the executor will be to compile assets and then decide who will be a beneficiary. Therefore the suggestion that the estate has been finalised is untrue and misleading. The long drawn-out process has only begun,” he said in response to written questions.

“The 10 cars are a vintage car collection which frankly had value only to him.”

The Herald said Hussein had also asked the court to register the estate, saying he and the family had not found a will.

Under Zimbabwean law, the estate of a person who dies intestate is distributed between their spouse and children.

Hussein would not say whether he had written the letter, saying the matter was before the court. Bona Chikowore did not answer calls to her mobile phone.

A diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Harare in 2001 published by WikiLeaks said Mugabe was rumored to have more than $1 billion of assets in Zimbabwe and overseas but it had no reliable information.

Social media posts showing his sons Robert Jr and Bellarmine Chatunga with bottles of expensive champagne at a Johannesburg nightclub and reports of Grace’s shopping sprees have offered glimpses of lavish spending.

A legal dispute in 2014 over a $5 million villa in Hong Kong suggested the family had been buying overseas property. The government said it owned the house.

Latterly, Mugabe complained about his retirement package and said he could not afford to maintain Blue Roof.

Mnangagwa hinted last week that the Mugabe family owned a number of farms in Zimbabwe and that the government would leave them with just one, in line with rules limiting farm ownership.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Alison Williams, Catherine Evans and Giles Elgood)