Ex­posed: Grace’s mys­tery fun­der

Un­savoury backer throws mil­lions at first lady’s bid for pres­i­dency

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - MAILON­LINE

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.

KEEP­ING IT IN THE FAM­ILY: Zim­babwe Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe with his wife Grace.

DU­BI­OUS MONEYMAN: Bri­tish busi­ness ty­coon Ni­cholas Adolf von Hessen, also known as Van Hoogstrate­n.

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