By Wendy Muperi
FORMER CIO boss Happyton Bonyongwe has rejected claims that a Chinese national the spy agency worked with on its Marange diamond concessions was an international criminal.
Bonyongwe, who also briefly served as justice minister ahead of last November’s military coup, was appearing before the parliamentary portfolio committee on mines this Monday.
It was the second time he has been summoned to answer questions on how the CIO failed to realise that Sam Pa, whom the agency partnered at its Kusena mine in Chiadzwa, was a globally recognised criminal.
The businessman was arrested on corruption charges by the Chinese government in 2015 and remains in detention.
NewZimbabwe.com columnist Ken Yamamoto described Pa as “former spy with strong military and high-level connections” whose “operations ranged from the amoral to morally questionable and unquestionably illegal”.
Monday’s hearing was part of a series being held by legislators on the Marange diamond “looting”, including the missing $15 billion claim by former president Robert Mugabe.
In a previous hearing, the CIO delegation claimed that the vetting of Sam Pa was done at the highest level.
However, while refusing to name the person who recommended Pa citing national interests, Bonyongwe said the Chinese businessman had no shady past at the time they engaged him.
In fact, the ex-CIO boss stated, Pa came “highly recommended” having “transacted” in other countries and with respectable networks including former Chinese president Xi Jinping.
“At the time, there was no question of Sam Pa having a record. We came across China International Fund (owned by Sam Pa) in 2008 at a conference attended by director generals from other countries,” said Bonyongwe.
“I am not going to name people because I should not betray (investors’) confidence but it was another country and their director general who referred the investor to us and he came highly recommended.
“We vetted him and, at that time, there was no issue.”
Committee chair Temba Mliswa interjected saying, “Parliament doesn’t do illicit deals so for us to be told that ‘I can’t name’, you are now creating more speculation.
“Who are these players who you can’t name when even God hasn’t said they cannot be named.”
We were in good company
Bonyongwe suggested that, like other countries, the committee could conduct the hearing in camera if they wanted to get the name.
He then shared internet photos of Sam Pa seating at top table with the Chinese president at some event.
“We were in very good company when we proceeded to do business with him (Sam Pa,” said Bonyongwe.
“He was doing business with other countries. He is there (in the picture) with those big leaders, he was able to sit and transact with them, therefore, we could also do business with him.”
Mliswa challenged the former spy chief saying being in photographs with people like President Jinping cannot be used as a yardstick for vetting noting that even “Wicknell Chivhayo also took pictures with the president”.
Bonyongwe said Sam Pa did not eventually get to mine with them after exploration showed there were not sufficient conglomerate diamond to continue with the operation.
He also argued that, up to now, Sam Pa is yet to be convicted of any crime but admitted the businessman was in detention.
According to columnist Yamamoto however, “Sam Pa was a key but shadowy and murky player in the body politic of Zimbabwe.
“During the government of national unity … Zanu PF was running a parallel government, on the back of murky transactions with Sam Pa.
“Pa set up a Sino-Zimbabwe Development company (Sino-Zim), a joint-venture with (the) CIO, fronted by Happyton Bonyongwe.
“Sino-Zim dabbled in many operations ranging from cotton to mining to financing parallel Zanu PF operations in government to buying goodies for the CIO.
“But most importantly, Sam Pa bought vehicles for the CIO, funded Zanu PF’s elections, including buying millions of Mugabe-branded giveaways and farming inputs which Mugabe dished out ahead of the 2013 elections.
“Emmerson Mnangagwa, prior to Zimbabwe’s election in 2013, travelled to Angola, and brought back one million dollars in cash to fund elections contrary state laws, courtesy of China-Sonangol, a Sam Pa creation.”