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Zimbabwe ex-President Robert Mugabe’s stolen fortune

November 23, 2017

During Mugabe's 37 years in office, the former president is believed to have amassed a huge fortune. The question everyone is asking is: Will impoverished Zimbabweans ever see the money again?

Robert Mugabe und Grace Mugabe
Image: Getty Images

Mugabe – war hero, autocrat

South Africa's tabloids are full of stories about the "immense riches" that Robert Mugabe and his family are alleged to have accumulated over the decades. His 93rd birthday celebrations in February this year are said to have cost more than 1.7 million euros ($2 million), where guests consumed vast quantities of champagne and caviar.

Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace at the former Zimbabwean president's 93rd birthday party on the outskirts of Bulawayo, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Mugabe's ZANU-PF birthday suit was dotted with images of him as a younger manImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Mukwazhi

It is not known exactly how much the geriatric former head of state and his family are worth. Estimates put the figure at around 844 million euros. In addition to a 25-bedroom house in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, valued at 8.5 million euros, Mugabe owns a luxury villa in Hong Kong worth more than 4 million euros. It is allegedly one of his wife Grace's favorite properties. His most valuable property is Hamilton Palace in Sussex, England, worth more than 40 million euros.

In addition, he owns more than 15,000 hectares of land in Zimbabwe, including estates that were seized from white farmers. Some of the farms are said to have been converted into private retreats and resorts. As well, the Mugabe family owns several armored vehicles, including a Mercedes for official occasions, worth 1 million euros, and a Rolls-Royce. They also own expensive jewelry, watches and shares in diamond and other commodities businesses.

Robert Mugabe und Grace Mugabe
'Gucci Grace' was famous for her love of expensive clothes and jewelryImage: Getty Images/J.Njikizana

The insatiable 'Gucci Grace'

Mugabe likes to shower his much younger wife, Grace (52), with expensive gifts. Due to her extravagant dress style and love of "bling," she has become known as Gucci Grace. She is alleged to have sued a Lebanese jeweler after she did not receive a diamond ring worth 1 million euros, which she had ordered for her 20th wedding anniversary.

Robert and Grace Mugabe's two sons have been raised in the lap of luxury. Chatunga Mugabe lived for years in a penthouse apartment in Dubai, with a monthly rent of 30,000 euros. He later moved to the wealthy Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia in South Africa, where his monthly rent was "only" about $4,000. However, he was thrown out of the apartment because of his excessive partying. He caused a stir after he posted a video on Instagram, which showed him tipping champagne over his diamond-covered wristwatch in a Johannesburg club.

Zimbabwe's ex-finance minister comes forward

Tendai Biti, an opposition leader, was Zimbabwe's finance minister between 2009-2013, when Mugabe's ZANU-PF party was forced to share power with two opposition parties. Biti witnessed the corrupt Mugabe system firsthand, he told DW, and it wasn't just limited to the aged president and his family.

"My problem was not only the millions that Mugabe had stolen, but the billions that disappeared in other channels," Biti said. "Today we know that about $15 billion disappeared during my tenure alone." At the same time, the money for social projects was lacking across the entire country; a large percentage of the population is still living in abject poverty.

Children kneeling by the side of a road, picking up tiny pieces of corn.
During a drought in 2009, Zimbabwean children gathered corn kernels that had fallen off trucksImage: picture alliance/dpa/T. Mukwazhi

"One of the biggest tasks for the new Zimbabwean government will be to bring Mugabe's stolen money back into the country," he said. "It shouldn't be too hard to track down Mugabe's accounts. After all, there are international rules on the transparency of global financial transactions."

Hidden in tax havens

But Paul Holden, head of the British nongovernmental organization Corruption Watch UK, believes it will be difficult to follow the Mugabe money trail.

"Whether the money will come back to Zimbabwe depends on various factors. First of all, we have to find out exactly how much Mugabe's assets are worth and where they are," he told DW. Most of Mugabe's wealth is presumably stashed away in tax havens. Even if it were possible to determine where the money is, there is the difficulty of proving that it was stolen."

Cases from other countries show how difficult and tedious this process can be. For example, during former Nigerian President Sani Abacha's term of office between 1993 and 1998, he is said to have looted around 3.6 billion euros from his country's oil revenues and hidden the money outside the country.

"It took more than 16 years for a small portion of the stolen money be brought back to Nigeria," said Holden.

 Will there be real change in Zimbabwe?

"My hope is that the Mugabes' removal will be a starting point for Zimbabwe's transformation from a dictatorship to a democratic state with a free and strong civil society," Holden said. The question now is whether Mugabe’s successor, former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is the right man to promote this development.

"Mnangagwa was Mugabe's close companion for more than 30 years and a part of the corrupt system," Holden said. "So most observers are very skeptical about whether he will be much different from his predecessor, or whether, as is so often the case, one despot merely gives way to the next."

Chrispin Mwakideu contributed to this article.