Mugabe’s secret plan to get sanctions lifted

Published in the Mail on Sunday (September 29th, 2013)

Robert Mugabe wants the Queen to help get sanctions against his government lifted – and if she refuses, will strip British businesses of their assets in Zimbabwe.

The dictator’s covert campaign of blackmail and bribery is exposed in secret documents, passed to The Mail on Sunday, that were drawn up by his closest advisers earlier this month.

Astonishingly Mugabe hopes Nicholas Van Hoogstraten, the British slum landlord who has become Zimbabwe’s biggest landowner, can help clean up his image along with a £13 million public relations campaign.

He aims to persuade the Queen to ‘compel’ the British government to relent over sanctions, including offering her wildlife or mining concessions as ‘a token gift of goodwill to make the message of reconciliation profound and clear’.

He will also offer cash for endorsements from sports and music stars who rally to his cause. But if his campaign fails, British-owned firms will be seized and given to Chinese rivals.

‘In the absence of  an agreement to take our offers and relent on sanctions ALL British-owned [firms] will be seized without compensation  and handed to friendly nations,’ said the documents.

The move – described as ‘a delicate smash and grab’ – follows the 89-year-old despot’s return to power last month in a heavily-disputed presidential election.

During the campaign Mugabe railed against Britain, and last week ranted at the United Nations about ‘illegal and filthy sanctions’, which include travel bans on him and his wife.

A three-page document marked ‘top secret’ and drawn up two weeks ago for Joint Operations Command (JOC), the body that oversees state security, reveals his tactics to get them lifted.

The paper proposes the formation of a ‘sanctions task force’ headed by Patrick Chinamasa, the country’s new finance minister, and Van Hoogstraten, who has made a fortune under Mugabe’s murderous regime and funds his party.

The Bognor-born businessman focused on Zimbabwe following his 2002 conviction for manslaughter for the killing of a business rival. The verdict was overturned on appeal, but he was later ordered to pay the dead man’s family £6 million in a civil case.

He owns two huge homes in the country, along with 1,600 square miles of prime land – an area bigger than Cornwall. Once described by a judge as a ‘self-imagined devil who thinks he is an emissary of Beelzebub’, he is an unlikely choice for a delicate diplomatic mission.

The new body will hire international public relations advisers to help seek a meeting with the Queen, who stripped Mugabe of his knighthood five years ago. ‘The task team must convince the Queen that there is more good for British interests if sanctions are lifted,’ the leaked papers say.

They add that Mugabe will send the monarch a gift to underline reconciliation, ‘as a matter of urgency’. Sources in Harare said he would offer a diamond mine or game reserve.

Other proposals including telling the Queen of ‘the availability of diamond mining blocks to British firms upon lifting of sanctions’, and arranging covert meetings with foreign secretary William Hague and Downing Street strategists Andrew Cooper and Christopher Lockwood.

Mugabe is proposing to halt ‘indiginisation’ policies, which force companies to cede control to black Zimbabweans. ‘As a measure of goodwill and image management the government will pause the takeover of prominent British-owned businesses,’ said the paper.

Firms such as Barclays, Standard Chartered and Rio Tinto will be told executives must speak out in support of Mugabe’s campaign. ‘It must be made clear that any corporate that fails or shows little interest will pay a heavy price,’ the paper says.

‘Through co-ordinated media interviews, opinion pieces and paid-up articles businessmen must plead and blackmail the Queen to force her hand.’

If Mugabe’s overtures to Britain are resisted, ‘everything will be grabbed and offered to the Chinese and Russians’, said one  ruling party source, adding that Canadian and Australian firms were also ‘at risk.’

Western sport and music stars will be offered bribes to support the campaign. ‘Celebrities will chose between mines and conservancy offers on top of cash,’ reveal  the documents.

Sports stars will be told to convey the message Zimbabwe will rejoin the Commonwealth ‘if Her Majesty agrees to assist in the lifting of sanctions.’ Mugabe pulled his country out a decade ago after it was suspended following flawed elections.

Zimbabwe’s swimming champion Kirsty Coventry – a double Olympic gold medallist called the ‘golden girl’ by Mugabe – is named as someone who will be asked to join the task force. She said yesterday she had not been approached and steers clear of politics.

Britain and the EU suspended sanctions against 81 Zimbabweans in March after a peaceful vote on constitutional reform.

A Foreign Office source said any moves against British firms would undermine global confidence in an economy recovering from the second worst hyper-inflation in history. ‘If you attack one country, you unnerve everyone,’ said the source. ‘It is a high-stakes game he is playing since Britain and America are the two biggest development donors.’

The revelations alarmed British businesses active in Zimbabwe. ‘What we are really worried about is violence against our staff and their families,’ said one executive.

The documents underline the fragile state of the economy. They show Mugabe seeking funds from China and oil-rich Equatorial Guinea to pay civil servants, while mining firms will be told to fund water supplies in cities ‘to stem potential source of dissent’.

Much of the nation’s wealth, especially from gold and diamond mines, has been stolen by top generals and politicians. The JOC proposes a ‘sacrificial prosecution’ to ‘create a new image . . . and show seriousness to the nation and the world’.

Van Hoogstraten admitted this weekend being friends with Chinamasa but denied involvement with the task force. ‘I would assist if asked but I know nothing about this,’ he said. 

Buckingham Palace declined to comment last night.

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