FORMER State Procurement Board (SPB) executive chairman and senior professional bureaucrat Charles Kuwaza could have been murdered, contrary to the narrative he committed suicide by jumping to his death from the ninth floor of his Club Chambers offices in Harare on Tuesday afternoon, it has emerged.
By Owen Gagare/Bernard Mpofu
This comes against background Kuwaza, who was facing corruption charges, was also locked in a bitter legal wrangle with the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) and the SPB over the ownership of cars and an upmarket house in Borrowdale where he was staying.
Investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent show that during his tenure as SPB boss, he could have stepped on the toes of senior government officials and military commanders over money-spinning deals which he blocked.
The Independent has established Kuwaza had planned to make a very brief stop at his office to collect documents for his lawyer. Investigations indicate he could have been attacked by unknown assailants who raided his office before pushing him out of the window either unconscious or already dead. Numerous eyewitnesses say Kuwaza — who was known to be scared of heights — did not scream during his fall.
Kuwaza had gone to his offices with his wife who, however, remained in the car — with its engine running — as he only wanted to collect the documents to bolster his defence in a case where he was facing five counts of corruption involving over US$1 million and ZW2,5 billion. He was freed on bail on March 24 and was due to appear in court on May 18.
His lawyer Shadreck Chisoko of Chiturumani & Zvavanoda Law Chambers said the family was waiting for the police to complete investigations into the death. He was quick to dismiss the claim his client could have committed suicide over the court case.
“We had criminal charges and my client was on bail, but we believe the charges were manifestly weak. I met my client on Monday and he was eager to defend the case in court,” he said.
“In any case the police are not investigating a case of suicide as has been widely reported in the media, but they are investigating a case of sudden death. The police investigations will establish whether the cause of death was suicide or if there was foul play. At the moment we are waiting for the investigations to be completed and we are not speculating.”
The Independent has, however, established that several issues raise suspicion of murder, not least the discovery of traces of blood on Kuwaza’s office chair and the walls.
There was also some oil-like substance which appeared to have been used to remove the blood stains. To make matters worse, those who went to the office shortly after he fell found evidence of things in disarray, suggesting a scuffle in the office.
Chisoko, who was among the first people to enter the office after the incident, refused to confirm traces of blood, oil-like substance and disorder in the office, saying that was now the police’s job.
“I can’t say whether there was blood, some liquid or oil or not, but the pathologists came and took swabs as part of the investigation. The pathologist and the police will be better placed to comment on that.”
The Independent established a government forensic pathologist was summoned to take swabs in the office.
“The pathologist took some samples on Tuesday, but indicated that he needed a team for further investigations. He came back with his team on Wednesday,” said an official close to the investigation.
It was also established a private security guard, whom sources said was hired by the family, was guarding the office door after the incident. Sources said he was hired to ensure the office scene was not tampered with.
Those who were around the scene say Kuwaza could have been dead, unconscious or seriously injured when he fell, hence his failure to scream.
Sources close to the investigation said it was inconceivable someone could jump or plunge nine floors down silently, whether they took the action voluntarily or not, when still alive.
Witnesses said people, including Kuwaza’s wife, were alerted to the tragedy by his body after he fell onto the tarmac with a heavy thud. When Kuwaza fell, his wife was on her way to his office to check on him, given that he had taken longer than expected inside. Kuwaza arrived at his office shortly after 11am and about 40 minutes later he was dead.
“When he fell, she actually tried to run away like many other people because the thud was so heavy it sounded as if something had burst or an explosion. She then discovered it was actually her husband’s body lying lifeless on the tarmac. She is the one who actually covered the body with a blanket,” an eyewitness said.
According to eyewitnesses Kuwaza’s wife parked along Nelson Mandela Avenue close to the Club Chambers entrance before he went up to his office. He was wearing a green-and-gold tracksuit used by the Zimbabwe Chess team.
“At 12:15 I heard a loud thud that sounded like a tyre burst or gun. We saw no car and suddenly there was a man lying down on the tarmac close to the kerb,” one witness said.
“At first we thought the man was epileptic and had just collapsed. From where I was, I could not tell whether he jumped from the balcony of the 9th floor or from another window. As we got closer to where he was, we realised the tragedy. We saw blood coming out of his mouth and he just stretched his hands before the body became lifeless. It was horrifying. When the woman we later discovered was the wife heard the commotion, she came out of the building and she screamed: ‘That is my husband!’
Security personnel manning the nearby Parliament of Zimbabwe building which is diagonally opposite Club Chambers could have had a clearer view of the fall, another witness said.
“He landed about eight metres from where I was, but I didn’t hear any scream as he plunged to death. After about 30 minutes paramedics arrived, but he was already dead and they left. A short while later police came to take the body and carry out investigations. The blood was only covered with soil later on Wednesday.
“His wife could have become disoriented moments afterwards as she briefly left the scene and came back after a few minutes. During her absence a man who said he was related to the family began looking for the wife. When she came back she went into the building and by then the number of people to the scene was now swelling.”
It has been established Kuwaza’s wife went into the office with her lawyer and daughter, who had rushed to the scene after she had been informed of the incident.
By the time they went into the office some police officers and men suspected to be state security personnel were attending the scene.
A witness said suspected state security agents were angry with the family’s presence in the office and aggressively confronted them asking what they wanted, had seen or found.
The spooks reportedly trailed Kuwaza’s wife from town to Borrowdale in what was said to have been an attempt to instil fear in her and shut her up.
Contacted for comment yesterday, police spokesperson Paul Nyathi said: “As police we are investigating circumstances surrounding his death.”
When further asked if they were looking into what was suspected to be traces of blood in Kuwaza’s office, Nyathi added: “If there is anyone who has credible information that can assist police in their investigations, that person is free to approach us and not speculate or cause alarm.”
Kuwaza’s contract as SPB boss was terminated in December 2015, setting the stage for clashes between him and senior officers in the OPC and SPB.
Following instructions from chief secretary to the OPC Misheck Sibanda in a minute referenced AP/27/435 and dated November 19, 2015, the SPB was directed not to pay employment benefits to Kuwaza until his exit package was determined.
The OPC directed that Kuwaza hand over some motor vehicles he was using; a Toyota Prado registration number AAV 0184, Mercedes Benz E320 (AAB 994), two Mitsubishis (AAG 0086 and AAG 0087) and a Mazda 626 (AAC 5173).
Kuwaza, however, refused to surrender the vehicles before the finalisation of his exit package. He argued his benefits would be determined by President Robert Mugabe as per his contract.
In his court papers, Kuwaza argued his contract gave him an option to buy the vehicles at a value not exceeding 10% of the original purchase price after every three years as per his contract.
He was appointed SPB executive chair in 2001 for a three-year period, but his contract was extended until 2015.
The SPB had made a High Court application to force Kuwaza to release the vehicles, but he opposed the application. The matter was being heard under case number HC 12573/16.
The SPB has also been trying to force Kuwaza out of his upmarket house situated at number 88 Quinnington Avenue in Borrowdale, but he had refused to move out before the finalisation of his exit package. In addition, Kuwaza, through his lawyers Gill, Godlonton & Gerrans was threatening to take legal action against the SPB.
Emails between Kuwaza and Deputy Chief Secretary Ray Ndhlukula reveal that he felt the OPC was dragging its feet in settling his exit package.
“Please refer to the exit package which, as a result of your unwillingness to conclude discussions, remains unresolved,” wrote Kuwaza on December 14 last year. “I wish to bring to your attention, if you were already not aware, that the SPB is taking me to court to return certain assets which are tied to my contract. In the meantime, the SPB owes me substantial emoluments, the exact amount of which will be determined between your office and myself.
A likely outcome of the court action is that I will be required to submit a copy of the contract. No doubt you will also be enjoined in the court action as the chief secretary is signatory to the contract. This is a game in which there are no winners as all the shenanigans will be broadcast to all and sundry.”
Kuwaza went on to insinuate that he was being unfairly treated or vindictively persecuted.
“A whole year has passed now since you retired me from my position as executive chairman. You act as if this is par for the course. You think that’s fair or reasonable?” he said.
In earlier correspondence dated October 24 2016, Ndhlukula had said the delay in concluding the terminal benefits “has to do with your failure to remit pay as you earn taxes to Zimra which accumulated to over US$1 million inclusive of penalties.”
Ndhlukula said as a result Zimra had garnished the SPB account before adding that only the president was exempted from paying taxes.
“A way has to be found on how you will pay what is due to the state before your terminal benefits can be finalised.
This is one of the many issues that the SPB is seized with regarding your benefits. You therefore will need to be extra patient as quite a number of these matters need to be cleared one at a time,” wrote Ndhlukula.
However, in a hard-hitting response, Kuwaza said the pay-as-you-earn issue had been finalised by Ndhlukula and former Zimra commissioner-general Gershem Pasi after he (Kuwaza) had drafted a response. He said in addition, Sibanda had tasked Deputy Chief Secretary Justin Mupamhanga to chair a meeting between him and Pasi “at which the provisions of the contract were once again explained”. He said Pasi had agreed that “a minute to that effect from the OPC would suffice”.
“In any case, even if the SPB owed Zimra, that has nothing to do with my exit package which will be taxed in the usual manner. You are not the arbiter of my fiscal obligations,” said Kuwaza.
“As a certified public accountant, I am quite capable of handling these matters. I therefore reject your explanation in toto. This is your strategy to deny me my benefits in US dollar. It is as cheap as that, and for an officer of your grade, this is deplorable to say the least. Your constant shifting of goal posts cannot be tolerated in a democracy … This is certainly criminal negligence of duty on your part.”
In August 2016 Kuwaza also sent emails to Ndhlukula making a follow up on his package while accusing him of dragging his feet.
“According to the chief secretary, you were assigned the responsibility to resolve my retirement package in terms of the contract of employment. First you claimed you were working on this and when I persisted on progress you claimed you did not have a copy of the contract. That was shocking,” he said.
“I then at my own expense, sent you a copy. When nothing happened, I asked you to expedite conclusion of the exit package and then you claimed there was an audit in progress. You undertook to provide me a copy of that audit report which was carried out by internal auditors from your office. Up to this date, you have not sent this report to me in spite of the fact that this was completed months ago.”
With suspicion of murder lingering over his mysterious death, Kuwaza will be buried at Glen Forest cemetery in Harare today. – ZimInd