EDITORIAL COMMENT: Corruption’s head must be cut off

Dealing with corruption is not just a simple one-off process of hunting down people who in effect stole money, especially as proving anything can be very difficult since most corrupt activity is done secretly.

But it is possible to track down sudden surges in wealth without any obvious source, which gives rise to pretty sound suspicion that this wealth has been acquired in a criminal manner, and it is necessary to ensure that those who are accumulating wealth in a criminal manner cannot benefit from their crimes.

This is one of the multi-faceted approaches to the drive against corruption launched by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and part of that complex process of prevention, ensuring people do not benefit, and sending people to jail where there is proof of criminal activity.

It is not just corruption that sees these sudden surges of wealth, as ZACC chairperson Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo stressed this week.

Other criminals are also active including drug traffickers, money launderers, people illegally hunting down high value game, cybercrime and smuggling of natural resources. 

Already there are legal ways of stripping this wealth from the criminals, and Justice Matanda-Moyo sees this as a major deterrent, but ZACC also wants to upgrade the recovery of criminal assets, to both ensure that people do not benefit and to provide evidence that the wealth involves some criminal activity.

She reckons in round terms that there are at least US$50 million that can and should be recovered in 35 cases before the National Prosecuting Authority and that is a lot of money, more than what we spending on the national emergency road programme this year and enough to build a reasonable dam. 

The money is not just thieving but also forcing public authorities to cut back on what they should be spending on upgrading infrastructure and other serious and essential spending. 

And it is probable that this corruption is not all that is there. 

Some of the cleverer people might well have managed to hide their money a lot more effectively and so we need to keep hunting them down.

It is an eternal problem in a country of laws that we go through the courts, and those legal processes are hardly instant especially when the dishonest can afford to hire some high quality legal talent, and that is one reason why Justice Matanda-Moyo wants the laws to be upgraded. 

One obvious upgrade is to start with the assumption that a sudden surge in wealth without any clear source, like business dealings, is potential criminal.

Besides ZACC, the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the National Prosecuting Authority we have the most obvious investigator, Zimra. 

Everyone is supposed to declare their income for tax purposes and there is no “fifth amendment” as criminals in the United States can benefit from. 

Mafia dons in that country simply declare their income, remembering Al Capone’s jail term for tax evasion, but refuse to incriminate themselves by listing the source.

So sometimes these sudden surges of wealth with no obvious source can enable law enforcement agencies to track down the source, which allows a criminal prosecution, but even if that is difficult we already have laws in place that allow such wealth to be seized, with that law now tested in the courts and on appeal to the Supreme Court. 

One major reason for going after wealth is that we can use civil penalties. 

These require a lower standard or proof, just proof on the balance of probabilities rather than proof beyond reasonable doubt as is the case in a criminal prosecution.

This has already proved its worth in the hunting down of money laundering and breaching of exchange control regulations. 

The Financial Intelligence Unit can now routinely apply civil penalties, and the most interesting point is that those who are paying these are not desperate to appeal, just considering themselves fortunate they are getting away without going to jail.

This is one reason why we also need maximum co-operation between the various agencies so that one way or another we can seize the wealth that must be illegally obtained, even if we are not absolutely certain how it was obtained.

But as we find more and more detail of the money, and as we link the money to the crimes, we can move forward on criminal prosecutions and both jail the criminal and strip them of their wealth.

We also need to remember that quite a lot of people who have created wealth outside legal means manage to get their money out of the country, to remove themselves and their cash from Zimbabwean jurisdiction. 

This automatically is a significant source of fuelling the black market, so damaging the economy again.

Technically modern global banking rules should stop this, but there are many loopholes and once again evidence must be provided. 

Some criminals simply stack their money as cash, or pay very large sums when buying property and not all countries go all out to prevent foreigners doing this. 

We would hope that some of those countries that have been so critical of Zimbabwean corruption are going to be a lot keener on helping Zimbabwe hunt down the money.

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