The Sunday Independent
Exposed: Grace’s mystery funder
Unsavoury backer throws millions at first lady’s bid for presidency
THERE is a man behind Grace Mugabe’s pursuit of political office – and it is not husband and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The UK-based Mail Online disclosed yesterday that British business tycoon Nicholas Adolf von Hessen was the real power behind the Zimbabwe first lady’s meteoric rise in politics, expected to culminate in a bid for the presidency.
Notorious for her foreign shopping sprees and her obsession with Ferragamo shoes, Grace Mugabe has long been a figure of derision in Zimbabwe.
Now the 49-year-old – known as “Disgrace”, “Gucci Grace” or the “First Shopper” – is launching an astonishing presidential bid, backed with millions in cash from a deeply unsavoury British millionaire.
MailOnline reports that Grace is being secretly bankrolled by Nicholas van Hoogstraten, the British slumlord who fled to Zimbabwe in 2007.
Secret documents obtained by MailOnline – allegedly compiled by President Robert Mugabe’s intelligence chiefs, who carry out surveillance on all those close to him – say Van Hoogstraten is paying millions to help Grace fund her campaign.
Van Hoogstraten, one of the largest landowners in Zimbabwe, where he lives in a hotel with a rotating cast of woman guests, is named in the documents as giving $62 million (about R720m) to bankroll Grace’s presidential bid.
A woman of enormous appetites, Grace has spent £2m (R36.4m) in shopping this year, with purchases that included 62 pairs of Ferragamo and 33 pairs of Gucci shoes, 12 diamond rings, a $115 000 Rolex and – most astonishingly – a $300 000 diamond-encrusted headboard. The papers show she has spent £30 000 (R540 000) on lingerie, with Jean Yu and Strumpet her favourite brands.
Before Grace and her husband were banned in 2002 from travelling to Europe due to human rights violations, her favourite destination was London, where her favourite shop was Harrods, but she was equally at home in Paris, New York or Rome.
After one trip to London, where she stayed in a suite at Claridges with dozens of bodyguards in tow, she was asked how she could justify spending so much on designer shoes while people starved. “I have very narrow feet, so I can only wear Ferragamo.”
Grace and Van Hoogstraten make an unusual pair. In return for his support, the Briton is promised a bigger share in a vast power plant that supplies the entire country with electricity.
Once described by a judge as a “self-imagined devil who thinks he is an emissary of Beelzebub”, Van Hoogstraten was implicated in a brutal gangland slaying of a business rival, and was named as the organiser of a grenade attack on a priest.
The documents – if the information they contain is true – also show that Grace and Van Hoogstraten are in cahoots over another multimillion- pound fiddle: diverting salaries meant for state employees at the giant Hwange Colliery into their private accounts.
They emerge at a crucial time. This week Mugabe fired his deputy, Joice Mujuru, and purged the cabinet of her allies amid speculation that his wife was winning the battle behind the scenes to succeed him when he died.
Mugabe, 90, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, and Mujuru was at one stage tipped to take over until she was accused of trying last week to kill him and was sacked as a deputy of the ruling Zanu-PF party.
The documents obtained by MailOnline show Grace is amassing some significant support.
They state: “Collaborated intelligence shows that Mr Van Hoogstraten is working at the behest of the first lady to acquire a controlling stake in Hwange Colliery Company to raise Mr Van Hoogstraten’s stake from 30 percent to 43 percent if he pays for her ascendancy to the presidency.”
Van Hoogstraten has helped Grace with her investments from doubtful schemes, helping her build up a global property empire with homes in Cape Town, Hong Kong, Dubai, Mauritius and two properties in Manchester. The Briton is part of a gang of unsavoury characters hoping that, by bankrolling Grace, they will be rewarded by plundering the country’s natural resources, which include a diamond field believed to be the biggest in the world. The documents say more than $750m in diamonds was smuggled out of the country by Grace last year, using middlemen in Dubai, South Africa and India.
The gems were taken from the Marange diamond field in the remote south-east of Zimbabwe, where “hard stones” were so common that small boys used them for hunting birds with catapults. The field is now a military zone following the vast diamond deposit find.
Chinese companies were allowed by Mugabe to plunder the fields in return for weapons. Van Hoogstraten is working with the Chinese middlemen organising the smuggling, but wants more, say the documents.
He owns vast swathes of prime land in Zimbabwe as well as two sprawling homes complete with tennis courts and swimming pools, with grounds patrolled by Mugabe’s secret police.
In 2007, Van Hoogstraten came to live in Zimbabwe permanently – he had owned land there since his 20s – repeating his mantra that “the only purpose in creating great wealth is to separate oneself from the riff-raff ”.
He was arrested over illegal pornography in 2008 and was held briefly by Mugabe’s police. But he was swiftly released and made a point of dining at Zimbabwe’s most exclusive restaurants every night for a week with a different local woman in tow.
He has prospered in Zimbabwe, where life expectancy has plummeted to 50 under Mugabe’s rule. He was granted mineral concessions for the role he played in the last year’s elections, when he donated millions to Mugabe’s cause.
With Mugabe set to turn 91 in February and in poor health, Van Hoogstraten is ensuring he is in Grace’s good books.
In a taste of the chaos to come, Grace unleashed her bid for political power this week when Mujuru, the popular vice-president and her rival to become president, was dismissed from Mugabe’s cabinet on trumped-up charges of plotting to assassinate him.
Incredibly, Grace has made clear she wants to run the country with Dr Gideon Gono, the country’s former finance chief, who was forced from office in disgrace in 2010 after reports he and Grace were lovers.
In one section of the documents headed “Bedroom Coup”, it’s revealed Grace retains “close links” with Gono, who is a regular visitor to the 12 homes that she has in Zimbabwe. And she is not acting alone in her bid to be dictator. In the shadows is Emmerson Mnangagwa, known in the Shona language as Ngwena (The Crocodile), accused of the killing of 25 000 tribal opponents of Mugabe in the 1980s.
The intelligence papers say that Mnangagwa is orchestrating Grace’s rise to power. He is also a friend of Van Hoogstraten.
Alexander Mackenzie, a spokesman for the magnate, said: “Mr Van Hoogstraten strongly refutes the vast majority of the contents of the article. His family have worldwide holdings worth several billion. He himself owns nothing.
”The supposedly ‘leaked’ documents are without doubt forgeries.”
Mackenzie also denied Van Hoogstraten had fled to Zimbabwe.
“Whilst he may spend a substantial amount of time there, he has other significant affairs to deal with worldwide and indeed has built one of the largest homes in the UK, Hamilton Palace, owned by the entities mentioned above.
“Mr Van Hoogstraten is a longterm supporter of President Mugabe, the First Lady and the Zanu-PF, all of whom are pillars of democracy and hold the nation’s interest at the forefront of their agenda. “I should add that he has never been convicted of being a pornographer,” Mackenzie said.