HARARE – Delish Nguwaya, a close friend of the Mnangagwa family, on Saturday became the first person to be charged over a multi-million-dollar Covid-19 medical equipment supply scandal.
The 36-year-old was remanded in custody to Monday for a bail hearing after being charged with two counts of fraud before Harare magistrate Vongai Muchuchuti.
Prosecutors opposed bail, arguing that Nguwaya – the Zimbabwe representative of a company known as Drax Consult SAGL or Drax International – had pending criminal cases, and that his alleged accomplice in the suspected fraud is “still at large in foreign jurisdictions and accused person can seek refuge in those territories.”
Prosecutor Lancelot Mutsokoti said the state wanted to put the investigators officer, one Superintendent Nyachega of the CID Commercial Crimes division on the stand, but he was “caught up in other business.”
He also told the magistrate that the matter was being investigated by two police departments, and it was necessary for investigators to take the stand and show why Nguwaya is not a good candidate for bail.
Mutsokoti then applied for a postponement to Monday.
Nguwaya’s lawyer Tafadzwa Hungwe told the court that Superintendent Nyachega was present when the matter was initially heard in the morning, before being adjourned to later in the day.
“The investigating officer was fully aware of court directions (to return in the afternoon), but decided to excuse himself,” Hungwe protested.
The lawyer said the application for a postponement was not done in good faith.
“Bail is a right, and this is an urgent matter and calls for the liberty of the accused,” he argued.
The magistrate overruled the defence, insisting that it was necessary to hear from the investigators before making a ruling.
Drax Consult SAGL signed contracts worth US$60 million with the Zimbabwe government for the supply of drugs and medical equipment to NatPharm, the state firm which handles all health-related procurement for public hospitals and clinics.
The government has now cancelled the contracts – but not before Drax was paid millions of dollars in bank accounts opened days prior to the payments in Hungary and Mauritius.
Prosecutors accuse Nguwaya and his partner, Albania-born Ilir Dedja, of misrepresenting that their Drax was a “pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland whereas it was merely a consulting company with no experience in the manufacture of drugs and medical products.”
Dedja and Nguwaya allegedly first approached the ministry of health sometime in 2019 and tendered an expression of interest for the supply of drugs by a company called Papi Pharma which was turned down after a vetting process, the prosecution said.
In August 2019, the duo would return this time as Drax Consult SAGL with an expression of interest to supply drugs and medical equipment worth U$20 million.
The then health ministry secretary, Agnes Mahomva, allegedly acted on the “misrepresentation” by Drax and roped in the finance ministry, NatPharm and the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) which culminated in a contract being signed.
Drax allegedly supplied medical products worth US$2 million as part of that contract, which stated that the company would be paid an advance of the same amount with the remaining US$18 million settled in monthly payments of US$1.5 million.
Prosecutors say the company entered the contract “through fraudulent means”.
“The accused person’s conduct was unlawful and caused prejudice to the good administration of the Zimbabwe government as the government officials acted on the misrepresentation to process contract papers,” Mutsokoti alleged.
Nguwaya, it is alleged, returned with a new expression of interest to supply medical products worth US$40 million, this time for a company called Drax International. He signed documents on behalf of the company.
The deal unravelled following media reports which pointed out that the company had inflated invoices for the supply of Covid-19 materials including test kits and coveralls.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s twin son, Collins, has been forced to issue a statement denying any links to Nguwaya, who has met President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his wife several times. He was invited to a State House dinner hosted by the first lady last November.
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