Minister under fire as Masawara set for Telecel take-over

INFORMATION Communication Technology Minister Supa Mandiwanzira will force Telecel Zimbabwe’s largest shareholder, VimpelCom, to sell their shares to London-listed investment vehicle, Masawara, New understands.

Supa Mandiwanzira
Supa Mandiwanzira

Masawara is registered in the tax haven of Jersey and fronted locally by former TA Holdings chairman, Shingi Mutasa who, according to highly-placed sources outraged by the proposed deal, is a friend of the ICT minister.

It remains unclear whether the deal has cabinet backing, but some ministers are understood to be voicing concern that the arrangement is not in line with the 'broad-based' intentions of the country's empowerment programme.

The government’s sudden crackdown against Telecel raised eyebrows but South Africa-based businessman Mutumwa Mawere, whose SMM Holdings was also curiously nationalised and mismanaged to complete collapse, said the company had a Mujuru problem.

“One of the untold stories behind the recent actions against Telecel must be the Mujuru factor. The demise of VP Mujuru, who is generally perceived to be a silent shareholder of Telecel Zimbabwe, necessarily had to have implications,” said Mawere in a recent article on the saga.

Telecel warned Tuesday that it would sue the government in international courts for breach on investment protection laws Harare agreed with the Swiss and Dutch governments.

Company lawyers said the government was trying to “unlawfully expropriate (its) investment through the improper cancellation of the licence without the provision of prompt, adequate and effective compensation”.

Details of the controversial plan to rope in Masawara emerged last night after Mandiwanzira met VimpelCom directors in Harare.

Efforts to check the allegations with Mandiwanzira were unsuccessful as his mobile phones were not answered.

As at 21 January 2015, Mutasa’s FMI Holdings controlled 51.3% of Masawara, with 42.2% in the hands of The Bank of New York (Nominees) while the Esi Wilhemina Daniels Memorial Trust controls 3%.

Dutch-based VimpelCom – who owns 60% of Telecel Zimbabwe – are in panic after the government gave the mobile phone firm 30 days to wind down its operations.

Supa’s changing story

Mandiwanzira initially claimed that company had failed to pay for its licence renewal but after that yarn was disproved, the minister claimed the company, failed to comply with conditions which limit foreign shareholding to 40 percent.

But Telecel again revealed the same government had rejected a proposal to give an 11 percent interest to workers and management which would have increased indigenous ownership of the company to 51 percent.

On Tuesday, Mandiwanzira, emerging from his meeting with VimpelCom, said on Twitter: “Just finished a very positive meeting with VimpelCom. It would appear the future of TZ is orange, it's bright.”

He did not answer follow-on questions.

But sources say Mandiwanzira told VimpelCom that the only way to save the company and their investment would be for them to divest.

“He basically told them that ‘the government wants to buy you out, but we’ve no money, so talk to these people’. He pointed them to Masawara. He has his preferred people,” a telecoms source familiar with the discussions said.

Mandiwanzira has also roped in the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ) as financial advisers to raise money for Masawara.

But with several local and international courtiers for VimpelCom’s stake in Telecel, among them investment vehicle Brainworks and Global Telecom Holdings, who are 100 percent shareholders of Telecel International, Mandiwanzira’s decision to handpick Masawara means the Telecel wrangle could be far from resolution.

“He’s wearing a government hat but pushing a private agenda. He has basically told VimpelCom that it’s Masawara or nothing. It therefore appears the decision to cancel Telecel’s licence was to arm-twist VimpelCom to be amenable to his plan,” an investment expert said.

On Monday, Mandiwanzira told Parliament how Telecel had since 2002 been given time to rectify its shareholding structure so that it complies with local laws, but had failed to do so.

He said this resulted in the initial cancellation of its operating licence in 2007, which was only restored after it promised to address the issue by the time it renewed its licence in 2013.

However, the company has since 2013 failed to rectify the shareholding anomaly resulting in the latest cancellation of the contract.

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