In the last ten years, the authorities of Belarus and Zimbabwe have established strong relations owing to the likeliness of their regimes. The sides are developing joint businesses on this ground. Gold mining on the African continent was among the most lucrative projects. The investigators of Davaite Razbiratsia (Let’s Deal With It) program found out, which Belarusian businesspersons gained the opportunity to make money on exploration of minerals in Zimbabwe.
It is worth recalling that, several years ago, Alyaksandr Lukashenka assigned his old-time associate Viktar Sheiman, then Head of the Presidential Administration, to oversee the export to Zimbabwe. In 2018, Sheiman paid at least two visits to Zimbabwe. After his March trip, he reported to Lukashenka that a number of contracts for the supply of tractors and forestry machinery had been signed, totalling to $58m. The countries also planned to create a large transportation company and a joint mining company to handle a wide range of minerals including oil, gold and platinum. However, it was known that at the time, African countries were experiencing problems with payments for supplied equipment. Sheiman dispelled doubts and disclosed the scheme of operations.
“No one is going to cooperate for free. When they have no money, they are willing to pay with minerals. We are OK about it. The most important thing is to shape the economy, so that there is a profit for Belarus,” he said.
In January 2019, Viktar Sheiman announced the launch of industrial extraction of minerals in Zimbabwe.
“We began a professional and detailed geological exploration. Our geologists have been working in Zimbabwe for a year and a half. And, they have found some very interesting and rather large mineral deposits. We expect to begin industrial extraction of the minerals literally in March this year,” reported Sheiman.
He made the statement after the meeting of Alyaksandr Lukashenka with the President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa in Minsk. The Honorary Consulate of Zimbabwe opened in the capital of Belarus during that visit.
The businessman Aleksandr Zingman became the Honorary Consul, who at the time was known as a supplier of Belarusian machinery to Africa. In spring this year, he gained notoriety due to a scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Zingman and his partners were detained on the count of arms trade and preparation of a coup-d’état. They did not spend much time in detention. After his release, the businessman denied his involvement in arms supplies.
A story about Zingman is important because he and Syarhei (Sergei) Sheiman – the son of Viktar Sheiman – registered Midlands Goldfields Foundation Company on the Seychelles in December of 2017. The shares were divided 50/50.
The Seychelles business was represented in Zimbabwe by a British company with a similar name of Midlands Goldfields Limited.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) learned that, in April 2018, the firm acquired a 70% share in a gold mining joint venture named Zim GoldFields Limited. 30% was received by Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC).
A number of Belarusians are listed as the joint venture executives, including Yauhen Zhouner, who co-signed documents on behalf of Zim GoldFields.
The investigators have found out that Zim GoldFields acquired several special grants for the development of gold placer deposits in Zimbabwe at a reduced tax rate, and hired the Belarusian Belgeopoisk company to carry out the work.
By the time of the joint venture establishment, Belgeopoisk had been connected with the Belarusian Presidential Administration headed by Viktar Sheiman. Now, the company is fully private, one of its beneficiaries is Yauhen Zhouner.
Belgeopoisk carried out the work on order from Zim GoldFields in several Zimbabwean river valleys. The most intensive operations were held in the Mutare riverbed in Manicaland Province. A 10,000-hectare land plot was allotted to them there. The project expenses were estimated in the special grant application at nearly $10m.
In October 2018, an inspection by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development detected an illegal extraction that took place at the land plot allotted to Zim GoldFields in the Mutare riverbed. Later, though, the officials found some violations committed by the joint venture in another place, in Mutasa.
In mid November 2020, an accident involving the death of illegal gold miners took place at the site allotted to Zim GoldFields. A Chinese contractor was working there. They were filling up surface pits to get ready for the operation. Some miners had left the mine, and several men had stayed inside. Two persons died, as a result.
Approximately two months before the accident, the Midlands Goldfields British and Seychellois companies had suspended their operations. According to some unofficial reports, nothing has changed in Zim GoldFields in terms of control, though the investigators have not been able to verify this information. Meanwhile, the joint venture keeps its operations, though it has stopped gold mining in the Mutare riverbed.
A response has arrived in an e-mail from Aftrade company owned by Aleksandr Zingman, stating that the businessman has no relation either to Zim Goldfields joint venture, or to the British firm Midlands Goldfields Limited.
“Also, Mr Zingman is not involved in any business relations or existing companies with Mr Syarhei Sheiman”, they state in the response.
Syarhei and Viktar Sheiman have not answered any inquiries or telephone calls.
Photos used in collage: Natalia Fedosenko / TASS / Forum; president.gov.by