Biti spills more beans on botched airport road; says national project status fraudulently awarded

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By Reason Razao

HARARE East legislator, Tendai Biti has accused Augur Investments of fraudulently acquiring a national project status for the construction of the Airport Road, a move he said prejudiced the country of millions of dollars in unpaid stamp duty.

Biti, who was testifying in a case he stands accused of verbally insulting Russian investor Tatiana Aleshina, said there were illegalities in the way Augur Investments acquired the tender.

Biti, who was the Minister of Finance at the time, said he did not sign any document approving that the project be granted a national projects status.

As part of his defence, Biti presented a letter which he said was written by Aleshina showing that the complainant had influenced higher offices in the land to acquire national project status for the Airport Road construction.

Biti accused Aleshina of being involved in cunningly bending laws and cutting corners as Augur Investments managed to deftly walk away with over 700 hectares of land before fulfilling the terms of the agreement.

According to Biti, for that particular project to be granted the status, the cabinet, which would have been chaired by the President, was the one which would have approved the national project status.

Biti, who was appealing to the court to consider the complainant’s proximity to powerful offices, said Aleshina had the ability to craft malicious allegations.

The letter was produced by Aleshina herself in her opposing affidavit in a high court application during one of the cases she is involved in.

“The letter from the ministry of finance dated April 2009 is addressed to the secretary for local governance and rural development. It says application for national project status for Augur Investment.

“Reference made to your correspondents when you recommended that Augur Investments be granted national project status and other fiscal incentives; treasury has granted Augur Investments national project status.

“The letter speaks on behalf of the treasury, in terms of section 7 of the Public Finance Management Act and in terms of the definition section of the Public Finance Management Act, the treasury is the minister of finance.

“As of 29th of April 2009, I was the minister of finance. I did not authorize this letter, I did not grant National Project status to Augur Investments,” Biti said.

The legislator added that Aleshina and her associates failed to pay stamp tax for the land they took from Harare City Council.

In Zimbabwe, stamp duty is payable on the registration of title upon acquisition of immovable property.

“In the addendum to the agreement the parties identified 733 hectares, they signed on to it and they put a value of US$52 million, so the stamp duty of this deed, that money was not paid,” he said.

Biti said part of the reasons for failure by Augur Investments to execute their agreement pertained to the conflict of interest by one Michael Mahachi, a council employee who also became a project manager for the company his office had contracted to construct the road.

According to Biti, after the botched agreement , reports by Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and Harare City Council recommended that Augur Investments forfeit the land to the local authorities, a submission that was not followed.