A South African executive allegedly stole thousands of sensitive documents at Zimbabwe’s largest chrome miner, Moti Group, which officials fear could jeopardise ongoing negotiations on multimillion-dollar projects in the country, the Zimbabwe Independent heard this week.
Moti Group has the majority stake in African Chrome Fields (ACF), which controls swathes of claims in the mineral-rich Midlands province where it launched an aluminothermic plant in Kwekwe to produce up to 12 000 tonnes of low sulphur, high-grade ferrochrome annually without using electricity in July 2018.
It is in the middle of negotiating a venture based on its lithium concession in Zimbabwe with an unnamed Chinese company which could lead to the setting up of a battery factory at a cost of more than US$1 billion.
The group is also involved in platinum mining, real estate and logistics, mainly in South Africa.
Founder, Zunaid Moti has since left the group because “his reputation was hindering the fortunes of the company” and was replaced by South Africa’s former Treasury director-general, Dondo Mogajane, who is now leading the negotiations around the Zimbabwe lithium battery venture.
Mogajane recently told South African media that the lithium mining and battery manufacturing venture would be a “game changer” for Zimbabwe.
Zunaid, however, reportedly plans to maintain his involvement in the running of Africa Chrome Fields.
Confidential documents seen by the Independent showed that the missing corporate documents, which were allegedly taken by a South African executive known as Clinton van Niekerk, have been leaked to a globally acclaimed investigative organisation, The Sentry, various media houses and third parties.
The Sentry is a resource watchdog which investigates how multinational companies siphon wealth out of countries.
This has sparked legal battles for their return both to South Africa and Zimbabwe, the Independent understands.
Van Niekerk, who was employed by Mazetti Management Services, a subsidiary of the Moti Group, allegedly resigned under suspicious circumstances before being arrested at King Shaka International Airport in Durban, South Africa.
The documents claim that van Niekerk was netted as he tried to leave that country to avoid prosecution, after the disappearance came to light last year, setting into motion the investigation that has seen him being slapped with criminal charges in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Among the “stolen” papers were corporate documents belonging to Moti Group’s Zimbabwean interests, according to court papers seen by the Independent.
Criminal charges have also been filed against a South African attorney.
Following his arrest, van Niekerk’s legal representatives launched an urgent application in the Durban High Court to secure his release because he “fears for his life”.
They also claimed that he was cooperating with Australian police, who had arranged for a visa for him to fly to London to testify. Mazetti was astounded by the alleged involvement of London and Australian authorities on a matter that was being dealt with in a South African jurisdiction.
“These representatives did not attempt to explain why the Australian or London authorities would be interested in alleged crimes committed in South Africa, nor did they explain how the Australian authorities would arrange a visa for the United Kingdom,” read part of documents seen by this publication.
“Van Niekerk was released the next day and is now alleged to be in an unspecified witness protection programme.”
In an urgent application lodged on February 13, 2023, in the Durban High Court, David Willoughby of Mazetti applied to have the order securing van Niekerk’s release set aside.
Willoughby claimed that van Niekerk broke the confidentiality provisions of his employment contract and “inter alia, the Protection of Personal Information Act, the Cyber Crimes Act and the Criminal Procedure Act” in South Africa.
Van Niekerk is said to have taken some of the documents while in Zimbabwe, where authorities are working with their South Africa counterparts in a cross-border investigation, according to official papers.
The Sentry’s reports have covered countries in east and southern Africa, among other regions, unearthing the plunder of resources.
The Moti Group says the documents could have been forwarded to The Sentry by either van Niekerk or his accomplices.
Mazetti has since taken up the matter with The Sentry and its sponsors.
The Sentry is a non–profit organisation sponsored by several high-profile individuals and foundations.
It was co-founded by the American actor George Clooney.
Mazetti, according to correspondence seen by the Independent, claims that The Sentry was working with van Niekerk and was furnished with, and is utilising the confidential documentation.
“Mazetti has requested on no less than five different occasions, in writing, that The Sentry returns all documentation supplied by van Niekerk, an alleged criminal. Mazetti also requested that they be allowed to confirm the authenticity of the documents.
“Mazetti rightly points out that any documents van Niekerk had possession of could have been altered in a variety of ways to support his vindictive narrative. Despite the various correspondences directed to them by Mazetti, The Sentry has failed to even acknowledge receipt of any correspondence. This, even though any use, and even possession of stolen documents, would make them an accessory to the crime,” read part of the documents.
“The Sentry and its sponsors do not see themselves being subject to the laws they claim to fight for. They seem to be promoting the ideology that it is right and just to not only steal confidential documents but to use the documents to further an individual’s agenda and false narratives. The behaviour of The Sentry promotes the theory of a pre-determined false narrative against the group and African governments, and one can only hope that their journalistic ethics will prevail,” Mazetti told the Independent when contacted for a comment.
Efforts to get a comment from The Sentry were fruitless.
Attempts to get a comment from van Niekek were also fruitless and several efforts to get in touch with him and his representatives hit a brick wall. Messages sent to his social media profiles did not get a response by the time of going to print.