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Zimbabwe Mining Company Linked to Shady Deals With Belarusians

elarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, left, and Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa prior to their meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (Natalia Fedosenko/TASS News Agency Pool Photo via AP)
elarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, left, and Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa prior to their meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (Natalia Fedosenko/TASS News Agency Pool Photo via AP)

An independent journalism organization has revealed that Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s right-hand man and his son are involved in some suspicious gold mining deals in Zimbabwe.

According to The NewsHawks, investigations by the Journalism Development Network, Inc., trading as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Lukashenko’s front man, Viktor Sheiman, was dispatched to Zimbabwe in March 2018 to negotiate trade and business deals for his government.

Indications are that Sheiman paved the way for a gold mining deal between his son, Sergei Sheiman, and other Belarusians with alleged offshore accounts.

Investigations by OCCRP, according to NewsHawks, have revealed that the mining deal was presented as a collaboration between the two countries, and Sheiman said it was intended to make “profit for Belarus.”

But in fact, the new joint venture, Zim Goldfields, reports OCCRP quoted by The NewsHawks, was secretly co-owned by Sheiman’s son, Sergei, with no stake for the Belarusian state.

Sergei Sheiman’s partner in the gold venture was influential Belarusian businessman Alexander Zingman, who has served as Zimbabwe’s honorary consul in Belarus since around early 2019 reports OCCRP.

OCCRP further reports that Zingman was detained for 12 days this March in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “A press release by his Dubai-based company, Aftrade DMCC, specified that the reason for the incident was arms dealing allegations, which Zingman flatly denied. He was released without charge.”

According to OCCRP, documents from the Pandora Papers — a massive leak to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists of nearly 12 million documents from 14 offshore corporate service providers, shared with media partners around the world — show how the two Belarusians used shell companies in the Seychelles and the U.K. to mask their involvement and the conflict of interest at the heart of the deal.

OCCRP reports that 30 percent of Zim Goldfields was held by Zimbabwe’s state-owned mining company, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), but the other 70 percent was controlled by a U.K. shell company called Midlands Goldfields Limited.

“Its ownership was masked by a proxy — U.K. records name Robert Michael Friedberg as the director of the company — but leaked documents from the Pandora Papers show that Friedberg was acting on behalf of its owners as a nominee for a Seychelles entity with a similar name: Midlands Goldfields Foundation. And that entity was owned by Sergei Sheiman and Zingman, who had both reportedly been part of the March 2018 mission to Harare.

“Both shell companies appear to have been created specifically to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by Viktor Sheiman’s official visit to Zimbabwe: Midlands Goldfields in both the Seychelles and U.K. were incorporated just a few months before his trip, and Zim Goldfields was set up shortly after.”

The NewsHawks and OCCRP report that Sergei Sheiman and Lukashenko’s administration did not respond to questions sent by OCCRP. Aftrade DMCC, Zingman’s Dubai-based company, denied that Zingman had any involvement with the gold venture, despite his name, contact details, passport number and signature appearing in company records for Midlands Goldfields Limited.

Alpha Consulting, which set up Midlands Goldfields in the Seychelles, said it complies with all local and international regulations and runs background checks on its clients and the source of their wealth.

“Mr Zingman has no links whatsoever with either Zim Goldfields or Midland Goldfields Limited,” Aftrade DMCC said in a written response. “Mr. Zingman is also not involved in any business relationships or existing companies with Mr. Sergei Sheiman,” the company added in a separate statement.

Viktor Sheiman, who left his position as head of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate in June 2021 with a personal message of gratitude by Lukashenko for “opening the window to Africa,” did not respond to requests for comment sent through his former office.

The mining ventures along Mutare River were shutdown by the Environmental Management Agency of Zimbabwe following several citations for mining violations.

The NewsHawks and OCCRP report that itis not clear whether Zim Goldfields continues to operate. The ZMDC did not respond to questions concerning the company’s status.

Information secretary, Nick Mangwana, was also unreachable for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.

Stas Ivashkevich (Belsat) and Aliaksei Karpeka ( contributed to this story