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Zimbabwe Shuts Down Mobile Money Platforms, Stock Exchange Over 'Illicit' Foreign Exchange Deals

FILE: Customers wait in a queue to withdraw cash from a bank in Harare, Zimbabwe, after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe issued new banknotes, Tuesday, Nov, 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwe has suspended all monetary transactions on phone-based mobile money platforms as well as trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

In a statement, the Ministry of Information said the measures are “intended to deal with malpractices, criminality and economic sabotage.”

The ministry said government is carrying out “intrusive investigations” that would lead to “the arrest and prosecution of offenders. These measures include the suspension of all trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

“These measures are to subsist until such time that the mobile money platforms have been reformed to their original purpose and all the current phantom rates of exchange have converged into one genuine rate that is determined by market forces under the Foreign Currency Auction System which was launched by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on 23rd June 2020.”

The ministry said government is expected to put in place some measures to mitigate and prevent any “collateral damage that these interventions may cause to the innocent transacting public who were using these platforms.”

It noted that the government is in possession of “impeccable intelligence which constitutes a prima facie case whereby the phone-based mobile money systems of Zimbabwe are conspiring, with the help of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, either deliberately or inadvertently, in illicit activities that are sabotaging the economy.”

The ministry said these included “the illegal externalization of foreign currency through transfer mispricing … fraudulently creating and issuing non-attributable and non-auditable agent cellphone lines/accounts, hiding irreconcilable accounts in suspense accounts which hold huge credit balances for unjustifiably long periods.”

It further noted that some activities include “acting as banks outside the purpose for which they were originally licensed as non-banking financial institutions.

“In the particular case of Ecocash, holding well in excess of ZWL8 billion distributed just over 501,000 agent/merchant lines as at 10 June 2020, which is not under the scrutiny of the Financial Intelligence Unit.”

Ecocash was cited as the center pivot of galloping black market foreign exchange rate and hence fueling the incessant price hikes of goods and services that are bedeviling the economy and causing untold hardship to the people of Zimbabwe.

“In this regard, it has been conspiring with big merchants to act as their conduit through which they transfer hundreds of millions of dollars per day to runners on the street who then buy US dollars on their behalf.”

The ministry claimed that some money platforms were facilitating the illicit trade in notes and coins at “contrived rates of between 30% and 50%, thus causing artificial shortages of the same within the banking system.”

It claimed that some cited money platforms were engaging in rampant tax evasion, use of illegal or banned lines, facilitating use of bulk airtime sales at discounted prices, which are “cross rated to phantom USD exchange rates, which further distort the Zimbabwe market and deliberately mop up US dollars from the black market, thus forcing up the rate of exchange in a manner that has hitherto been difficult to explain for the monetary authorities.”

The ministry also claimed that “Ecocash, OneMoney, Telecash and MyCash Mobile Money platforms are all complicit in these illicit activities in varying degrees. Ecocash, however, which controls nearly 94% of all mobile money transactions, is the center pivot of this problem and its resultant impact on Zimbabwe’s economy.

“The impact is exacerbated by the existence of fake counters on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, which are epitomized by the so-called Old Mutual Implied Exchange Rate (OMIR). This, in turn, results in four or more US:ZW parallel market exchange rates operating in the market. At any time, therefore, there is the official rate, an Ecocash rate, a OneMoney rate and the OMIR among others.”

It said these are designed to defeat Zimbabwe’s fiscal policy.

Reacting to the move, MDC Alliance spokesperson, Fadzayi Mahere, said, “This statement has no force of law in any case. Without the backing of a valid legal instrument, it's hot air. That said, if it's a foreboding of what's to come, your government will have shown yet again a huge capacity to destroy property rights. You cannot be trusted with anything.”

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