Authorities protect spooky Chinese dealer on explosive cyanide scandal

ZIMBABWEAN authorities are facing serious accusations of protecting a dodgy and spooky Chinese businesswoman with a vast network of high-level connections penetrating political, diplomatic, state security services and business circles over an illegal purchase of cyanide to cover up her tracks on charges of externalisation of foreign currency, as well as wildlife poaching activities.


Documents seen by The NewsHawks say police, Environmental Management Authority (Ema) and government officials are protecting Chinese national Li Song (52) who bought and stored about 40 tonnes of cyanide illegally at different places in a bid to use it in court to obstruct the course of justice or defeat the ends of justice by producing it as evidence of a product imported using money she unlawfully sent offshore to China.

Part of the cyanide was given to her friend Wayne Jardine, a Bulawayo-based businessman and professional hunter. It is feared that cyanide was used for poaching of wildlife. Cyanide — a deadly fast-acting chemical — has been used by criminal syndicates to poison Zimbabwe’s wildlife amid poaching and killing of animals for their money-spinning body parts.

Documents show that former Posryn Properties (Pvt) Ltd director Marida Maria Magdalena Van Der Spuy, a South African national, had ordered the illegal storage of cyanide, in criminal contravention of health and safety laws, on behalf of Song.

The cyanide was stored at 105 Plumtree Road, Bualwayo, owned by Posryn Properties.  Documents say it was bought from Curechem Overseas (Pvt) Ltd located on 1 Williams Way, Msasa, Harare and then transported to the Bulawayo branch whose address is 28 Josiah Chinamano Street after it was rejected by Duration Gold/Clarity Group, a mining company where Song initially worked.

Curechem is a leading supplier of chemicals with a head office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and offices in sub-Saharan Africa – Zambia, Tanzania, India, Mozambique, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

“This cyanide issue is a big scandal. Song is facing fraud and externalisation of foreign currency charges. She was reported to police by her ex-husband Francesco Marconati who was a co-director with her at Eagle Italian Shoes,” a source close to the issue said.

“The company supplies the Zimbabwe National Army, Zimbabwe Prison Services and Zimbabwe Republic Police, among other state institutions, with leather shoes, helmets and baton sticks. As a result, Li Song has connections with the Office of the President and Cabinet, government ministers and senior officials, state security structures and diplomats. She also has connections in business and that makes her a powerful person, although she operates in the shadows and the underworld. It is rare to even see her photos as she does not want to be photographed by anyone. I doubt that even Marconati has her pictures.”

After their divorce and fallout as directors in their companies, Marconati filed charges of fraud, perjury and externalisation of forex against Song, triggered by a dispute between the directors in 2020.

In October 2021, Marconati wrote a letter of complaint addressed to Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga and copied to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), saying police assistant commissioner Jealous Nyabasa and his subordinates were protecting Song.

Even in this cyanide scandal, Nyabasa’s name has cropped up. Investigating officers in Bulawayo and their bosses in Harare, including Nyabasa, are baulking at acting against Song after police reports have been made against her and there are numerous witnesses.

Ema has also been prevaricating. It was pressured to issue a seizure order on the cyanide, but still allowed Song to get away with a slap on the wrist, mild reprimand and a small fine of about US$1 000.

However, Ema is under pressure and scrutiny by some well-connected private investigators who want the environmental agency to act with tough measures.

Song and her colleagues are said to have told complainants that nothing will happen to her. It is said secret manoeuvres are now being made to get the National Prosecuting Authority to drop charges against her as the cyanide scam has been exposed, making it difficult to produce the chemical as evidence of a product imported to justify externalisation of foreign currency.

Investigations have shown that contrary to Song’s claims that she has imported the cyanide for the gold mine she used to run in Bubi in Matabeleland region with her former husband — who has rejected the product when she tried to get the company to store it for her — it was bought in Harare and transported for storage in Bulawayo.

The cyanide would have been used in court as evidence of an imported consignment to prove that she had not externalised funds, but paid for the “imported” chemical cargo offshore.

The cyanide was initially warehoused at Curechem Bulawayo after it was rejected by Duration Gold Limited and Marconati.

However, documents show that Curechem Bulawayo wrote to Song and her team in September last year, saying it was unable to store “more of stocks which DGL (Duration Gold Limited) rejected”.

“We need to know where we should put the product,” one email written by Curechem to Song says.

Investigations show that the cyanide was bought from Curechem Harare last year in June and immediately transported to Bulawayo. It was then sent to Duration Gold in Bubi where it was rejected.

From there it went to Curechem Bulawayo. It was later sent to 105 Plumtree Road, Bulawayo, a property owned by Posryn Properties. Documents say Van Der Spuy, who had left the company on 9 January 2024, instructed the workers at Posryn where she worked to use the company’s warehouses to store the cyanide illegally, with Jardine’s collaboration. The cyanide was discovered on 12 January 2024.

A police report was made on 19 January 2024. However, police and Ema are prevaricating instead of taking decisive action, Ema is also flinching. Zimbabwe is a signatory to an international treaty on the use and handling of cyanide.  According to Zimbabwe’s Hazardous Substances Act, cyanide can only be sold to qualified customers in the mining and chemical industries by expert chemical distributors. Most of these customers are gold miners who need to write documentary evidence that they have the right to hold and use cyanide.

Qualified chemical distributors must obtain a licence from the Mining and Mineral Development Department first.

Song is not abiding by the laws that govern the purchase, transportation and storage of cyanide, documents say.

“Directors of Posryn Properties where the cyanide is illegally stored and those of Duration Gold/Clarity Group discovered the product at their premises, Stand 5744 Bulawayo Township, also known as 105 Plumtree Road, Bulawayo, last month. They investigated the issue and discovered that it was Van Der Spuy, Duration Gold/Clarity Group shared services manager and a director of Posryn Properties until termination of her contract on 9 January 2024, who ordered workers to hide the cyanide at the premises,” one document says.

“On 12 January 2024, it was advised that Alan Dolan, the business owner and chief executive, had been informed that boxes of cyanide and lime had been discovered at their company premises in storerooms at 105 Plumtree Road, Bulawayo, which is not licenced to store hazardous material, especially cyanide. The matter was reported to police.”

Investigations show that Van Der Spuy ordered workers — Denny Sibanda, John Gucha, Sherlese Branfield, Nelson Banda and Delwin Bismark — to allow for the storage of cyanide with the assistance of Wayne Jardine who took some bags and stored them away at another storeroom.”

Sources involved in the investigation say the problem is threefold: That cyanide is illegally stored, some of it was removed and possibly used for poaching and police and Ema authorities are reluctant to act against Song.

A lot of animals in Zimbabwe are killed for their parts, for instance elephants for their tusks, rhinoceros for their horns and crocodiles for their skins. The parts are money-spinning in local and international markets, particularly Asia.

Wildlife crime is big business. Run by dangerous local and international networks, animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and firearms.

As the use of cyanide becomes more prevalent in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector worldwide, miners, government regulators and other stakeholders need to urgently ensure safer cyanide use and management.

A growing body of evidence suggests that cyanidation is spreading from industrial gold mining to smaller mining operations, and now poaching.

In the past decade, poisoning of wildlife waterholes in Zimbabwe has been rife. In 2013, more than 300 elephants died in the Hwange National Park as a result of poachers lacing the park’s watering holes and salt licks with cyanide poison.

After that, Zimbabwean rangers in 2015 found bodies of 22 more elephants that were poisoned with cyanide. The grim discovery brought to 62 the number of elephants poisoned by poachers around Hwange. In 2016, five elephants were poisoned cyanide.

Six elephants were found dead recently.

This trend was repeated throughout the decade and still persists at the moment.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo confirmed the incident of the killings of six elephants to The NewsHawks, indicating suspects have been arrested and would appear in court soon.

“We have an incident where six elephants were found dead in the Lupane area. Some suspects have been arrested and will be appearing in court soon,” he said.

A Posryn Properties spokesperson said last week the company had reported the matter to police and is willing to help with investigations.

However, police are not acting. Sources say they are protecting Song and other offenders. An investigating officer in Bulawayo, only identified as detective chief inspector Dube, did not wish to comment.

Jardine admitted to unlawfully storing cyanide at the warehouse, while Van Der Spuy said storing cyanide illegally and unprocedurally was “a problem”.

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