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By Rowan Philp and Bonny Schoonakker

ONE of three men found guilty of spying on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s inner circle for South African intelligence has told his story to The Sunday Times from inside a Harare prison.

Tendai Matambanadzo, a former bank executive, said he was paid thousands of US dollars by a South African agent operating under the false name of Andrew Brown for information including the names of likely successors to Mugabe and relations with Botswana. He and his fellow spies face up to 20 years in jail after being convicted of espionage by a Harare magistrate.

He claimed that “Brown”, a South African Secret Service agent, tricked him into believing he was a private risk-management consultant - and claimed that none of the information he sold was a state secret.

The Sunday Times says it has established Brown’s true identity, but has been told by a spokesman for the Department of Intelligence, Lorna Daniels, that it is illegal to publish the name. Brown, 48, is a father of three who lives in a suburb east of Pretoria.

Approached at their townhouse Saturday, Brown’s wife acknowledged that he was being held in Harare. She would only say: “The government is working on it.”

Matambanadzo said that all meetings with Brown were one-on-one - there was a never a group meeting, as claimed in previous media reports - and that he met Brown every second month over the next three years, at hotels such as the Zambezi Sun in Victoria Falls. Brown, he said, was always dressed in casual slacks and shirt - “never a suit and tie”.

The agent became increasingly frustrated at the lack of “real secrets” as the meetings went on. Once, in 2002, he said, Brown drove him to his home near Pretoria where he met his three teenage children.

“He doesn’t drink [alcohol], so I’d have a Coke - I remember we had tea that time,” said Matambanadzo. “We talked about sports, rugby.” According to Matambanadzo, this is how Brown operated: “I’d get a call in Harare like this: ‘Hi, it’s Andrew, I’m in Harare. I’m in this room at the Holiday Inn - when can we meet?’ “We’d go into the room. He’d say, ‘Okay, last month I asked you to look at this; what have you got for me?’ I’d say, ‘Okay, I’ve prepared a report on land reform and the economy.’ I told him my contacts at the party were not willing to divulge anything top secret. He would give me the money - $700 or $800 [US], or R3000 - and I would sign for it.” Matambanadzo alleged further: “Then he would say: ‘Can I have 500? Can I have 1000?’ He said he had personal problems with alimony and child support. I would actually hand money [back] to him.”

Matambanadzo and two others, Zanu PF director of external affairs Itai Marchi and diplomat Godfrey Dzvairo, were arrested in December after Brown was seized by Zimbabwean intelligence officers and named them and three others as members of his spy ring. Brown is now being held at an undisclosed location in Zimbabwe and the Sunday Times was unable to put Matambanadzo’s claims to him.

"I detect a classic false-flag operation from Matambanadzo’s account"

This week, Matambanadzo - a wealthy banker who played squash with Harare’s elite - was the picture of a desperate man. Wearing dirty khaki overalls and suffering from a newly acquired skin disease in Harare Remand Prison, he said: “I admit I took money from [Brown] and made a big mistake, but I did not steal any documents and I gave away no state secrets - and I have been denied the opportunity to defend myself on that basis. For instance, in September last year, I just gave him an analysis to say I think that [retired General Solomon] Mujuru is going to win over the [parliamentary Speaker Emmerson] Mnangagwa camp in the succession to the vice-presidency and [eventually] the presidency.” Matambanadzo alleged that Brown had questioned fellow accused Marchi almost exclusively on the succession issue and the make-up of rival “camps” in Zanu PF.

Newly married, Matambanadzo, 42, owns a home in the exclusive Harare suburb of Chisipite as well as two luxury cars. His younger brother is Tich Mataz, the former 5fm DJ and presenter of the SABC’s Woza Weekend show.

Matambanadzo said Dzvairo - then a consul-general to South Africa - had advised him to meet Brown in Johannesburg in 2001 and consider helping him “as a bit of extra money for me”. “He was introduced to us as a consultant who worked for a company in South Africa which did risk profiles of countries in the region,” he said.

Daniels, the Intelligence spokesman, said the department “would not comment” on Matambanadzo’s claims or Brown’s status. However, Riaan Labuschagne, a former intelligence officer who had a Zimbabwe spying job similar to Brown’s in the 1980s, said he recognised “a classic false-flag operation” from Matambanadzo’s account. However, he “seriously doubted” that Matambanadzo did not know he was involved in spying.

This week, Matambanadzo admitted that the meetings - if not the information itself - had been secret. Asked if he had known what he was doing was wrong, he replied: “Not really; no.” Matambanadzo said he had signed a confession after 11 days in detention in which he admitted giving Brown information. “But there were never any allegations that we stole documents. We broke no law,” he said. Selby Hwacha, the attorney representing the three accused, said nothing in their confessions involved a state secret or a stolen document, and therefore “no offence was committed”. Mataz said it was “awful” to see his brother manacled during his visits. “I hope the judiciary will be lenient,” he said - Sunday Times

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