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Barclays Bank Under Fire For Alleged Zimbabwe Sanctions Busting

The British parliament and Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change are urging London to investigate Barclays Bank for possibly violating European Union targeted financial sanctions against Zimbabwe's ruling elite.

The Sunday Times of London reported this week that Barclays lent 750 million pounds to at least five Zimbabwean cabinet ministers in the first half of this year alone through a Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe program called the Agriculture Sector Productivity Enhancement Facility intended to stimulate recovery in the moribund sector.

Among the beneficiaries, according to the Sunday Times, were State Security and Land Resettlement Minister Didymus Mutasa, Policy Implementation Minister Webster Shamu, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

All five are subject to European Union sanctions intended to cut them off from funds or other economic resources under the control of EU nations. President Robert Mugabe recently boasted, however, that his government was getting around the sanctions.

A government representative to the House of Lords, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, told peers Monday that an investigation is under way to determine whether the loans reported by the Sunday Times represent a breach of the EU sanctions.

Secretary General Tendai Biti of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai condemned Barclays and urged the international community to launch a probe. An official at Barclays corporate headquarters in London refused to comment on the matter.

Attorney Otto Saki of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that it is morally wrong for Barclays Bank to fund the farm operations of ministers who have used violence to seize land since 2000.

The EU said, meanwhile that it will expand humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe. EU funding to Zimbabwe in 2006 totaled more than US$125 million - over US$282 million including bilateral contributions from EU members - the European Commission said.

European ambassadors who recently visited EU projects in Zimbabwe said they would like to fund water and sanitation programs in Bulawayo.

Members of the British upper house also asked the government what it is doing to ensure Zimbabwe is discussed at the upcoming meeting of heads of government of the Commonwealth of nations set to open in Uganda next week.

Speaking for the government, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon responded that as Zimbabwe is no longer a commonwealth member, it would not be on the formal agenda but would be discussed on the margins of the meeting.

That meeting on the sidelines next Wednesday is being organized by the Royal Commonwealth Society of London, whose director general, Stuart Mole, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that there is much the Commonwealth can do to help to end the Zimbabwe crisis.

Since 2003 a Commonwealth committee headed by Jamaica has been seeking ways to bring Zimbabwe back into the organization following President Mugabe’s decision to pull out of the group of mostly former British colonies.

Senior Programs Officer Phillip Pasirayi of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said that while Zimbabwe isn’t likely to rejoin the Commonwealth soon, such interventions are beneficial.

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