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Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe dances at a rally in Gweru, Zimbabwe, Friday, Sept, 1, 2017. Mugabe made her first public statement since been accused of assaulting a young model in in neighboring South Africa, but she steered clear of the…

The Zimbabwean president's son, a former first lady and 24 prominent politicians are accused of abusing their positions to acquire loans without collateral from a leading bank in the southern African country.

The Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ) says it has been forced to assume debt totaling at least $160 million after Emmerson Mnangagwa Jr., Grace Mugabe and others defaulted on loans made from 2010 to 2014.

Zimbabwe's government, overseeing the country's worst economy in a decade, has a 16% stake in CBZ.

CBZ released a list of alleged defaulters this week. Most of those on the list also allegedly defaulted on additional loans totaling $200 million from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe — loans that must be covered by taxpayers.

Zimbabweans are struggling to cope with soaring prices for food, medicine and other staples as wages fall and the government cuts electricity for up to 18 hours a day to try to contain costs.

Mnangagwa, whose father replaced longtime President Robert Mugabe in late 2017, allegedly defaulted on a $400,000 loan from the commercial bank. Grace Mugabe, who led the ruling Zanu-PF party's women's wing and had indicated interest in the presidency for herself, is accused of failing to repay $4.5 million to the bank. She is in Singapore with her ailing husband and could not be reached for comment.

But the younger Mnangagwa told VOA he owes nothing to CBZ.

"I do not currently hold, or have held, an account with the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, nor have I ever transacted with them," he wrote in an email Thursday.

FILE - Obert Mpofu, then Zimbabwe's minister of home affairs, is pictured at a meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 19, 2017.

Other prominent alleged borrowers include Obert Mpofu, a former Cabinet minister in the Zanu-PF; Ignatius Chombo, another former Cabinet minister; Mabel Chinomona, former Senate president; and Job Sikhala, a member of parliament and the only opposition member on the list.

Zimbabwe's education minister, Paul Mavhima, who borrowed $120,000 from CBZ, told VOA he had reached a repayment agreement with the bank.

CBZ management has contracted with Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and vice president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, to recover the debts. The opposition group is led by Nelson Chamisa, runner-up to the elder Mnangagwa in last summer's presidential election.

Biti confirmed to VOA's Zimbabwe service that he would work for the bank.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, north east England, Aug. 5, 2019.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote to all government employees on Friday to tell them that preparing for a no-deal exit from the European Union is his and their top priority, according to a copy of the email seen by Reuters.

Johnson has promised voters Britain will leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without an exit deal, demanding that Brussels drop parts of the existing proposed deal relating to the Irish border and negotiate a fresh exit arrangement.

But the EU is adamant that the legal terms of the deal cannot be rewritten, raising expectations among politicians and financial markets that Britain is headed for an unmanaged divorce from the bloc in less than three months' time.

"I would very much prefer to leave with a deal -- one that must abolish the anti-democratic Irish backstop, which has unacceptable consequences for our country," Johnson said in the email.

"But I recognize this may not happen. That is why preparing urgently and rapidly for the possibility of an exit without a deal will be my top priority, and it will be the top priority for the Civil Service too."

Previously, pro-Brexit campaigners have criticized the ranks of Britain's civil service, which adopts a politically neutral stance while working to enact government policy, saying they were biased towards remaining in the EU and trying to obstruct the exit process.

Many investors say a no-deal Brexit would send shock waves through the world economy, tip Britain into a recession, roil financial markets and weaken London's position as the pre-eminent international financial center.

"I know many of you have already done a great deal of hard work in mobilizing to prepare for a No Deal scenario, so that we can leave on 31 October come what may," Johnson wrote in the email, first reported by Sky News.

"Between now and then, we must engage and communicate clearly with the British people about what our plans for taking back control mean, what people and businesses need to do, and the support we will provide."

Although advocates of a no-deal exit say that Britain would swiftly recover from any disruption and benefit over the long term from improved economic flexibility, sterling and other economic indicators reflect a broadly pessimistic outlook.

Data on Friday showed the British economy shrank unexpectedly for the first time since 2012 in the second quarter, dragged down by a slump in manufacturing.

Johnson, however praised the work of government employees in the 650-word bulletin issued on Friday afternoon, and promised a reforming agenda beyond Brexit, highlighting plans for improved public services.

"The Government I lead is fully committed to leaving the European Union by 31 October 2019 and getting a grip of the vital issues that affect people's lives: the NHS, education and crime," he wrote.

"While there are no grounds for complacency, there is every reason for optimism."

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