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Parliamentary Panel Seeks Prosecution of Zimbabwean Trade Minister

The Zimbabwean parliament's committee on industry and trade, probing alleged top-level corruption at and around the moribund Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company, will table findings of its investigation Wednesday, sources close to the committee said.

But the committee has still not been able to put its hands on a report prepared by the powerful National Economic Conduct Inspectorate staffed by Finance Ministry and security staff, which is said to document corruption all the way up to the cabinet.

The committee report, a copy of which was obtained by VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, urges the full parliament to invoke its fullest powers to its prosecute Minister of Trade Obert Mpofu on charges that he gave "contradicting, false" evidence to the panel.

It was from Mpofu that the committee first learned of the National Economic Conduct Inspectorate report which is said to implicate ministers, members of parliament and top ZISCO managers said to have diverted resources of the state-owned enterprise.

The investigation arose from the collapse of an agreement with an Indian steel firm to inject US$400 million into the parastatal over 10 years. The deal is said to have fallen apart because Zimbabwean officials demanded stakes in the recapitalized company.

Called before the committee a second time, Mpofu backtracked on his statement and said the unnamed senior officials he had implicated were not personally involved in looting ZISCO but merely had ties to companies connected with the scandal.

The parliamentary report also demands that Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa supply the committee with a copy of the Economic Conduct Inspectorate report for study and "if need be take appropriate action with the view to curbing corruption in the country.”

The parliamentary committee report concludes that the collapsed deal between ZISCO and Global Steel was “fraught with irregularities.” It alleges that Mpofu dismissed the company's management and board and set himself as principal in the venture.

Some observers see the burgeoning ZISCO scandal - "Steelgate" to Harare media - as a test of whether President Robert Mugabe is sincere in his often-stated desire to stamp out widespread official corruption. But Mr. Mugabe has yet to break silence on the ZISCO scandal, described by some as the worst since independence in 1980.

However, Transparency International Zimbabwe Chairman Godwill Shana said that the president's silence at this point may be understood as Mr. Mugabe must let the legal process take its course before he comments publicly on the affair.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...