Zimbabwe’s Central Bank Raided Private Accounts to Prop Up Ministries

AP, April 20, 2009

Zimbabwe’s central bank governor admitted today that he took hard currency from the bank accounts of private businesses and foreign aid groups without permission, saying he was trying to keep his country’s cash-strapped ministries running.

In a statement that would be unthinkable coming from most central banks, the governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, appeared to be issuing a plea to keep his job in the face of growing criticism.

Gono said it was time “to let bygones be bygones” now that Zimbabwe has a new coalition government dedicated to reversing its economic decline.

The central banker said he gave the money he took from the hard currency accounts as loans to various ministries, and the private accounts would be reimbursed when the ministries repaid the loans. He said the bank’s efforts “sustained the country” in its hour of need.

Gono’s statement showed the practice was widespread. It was first hinted at last year, when the international aid agency Global Fund threatened to cut off funds to Zimbabwe for fighting Aids, tuberculosis and malaria unless money taken from its account was returned. The central bank returned $7.3m (£5m) to Global Fund.

The raiding of foreign currency accounts is just one of the highly questionable actions for which Gono has been sharply criticised.

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Attacks on Gono have stepped up in recent days after he offered about 50 used cars to new MPs from both Mugabe’s party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change. Controversy over the cars has led to calls for an investigation into central bank operations, ranging from the purchase of its cutlery to businesses that Gono runs on the side.

In his statement today, Gono called on MPs to return the cars but said the offer was well-meant.

Gono said they had asked for the cars so they could travel across the country to “preach” the message of economic reform and national reconciliation under the coalition formed on 16 February.

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