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Zimbabwe's Mugabe Pledges Crackdown on Corruption

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has promised a broad crackdown on financial crimes and corruption, warning that nobody involved in such activity is immune from arrest.

The president told a group over the weekend that it does not matter if suspects are prominent business executives or even his relatives. He said they will be arrested. He also said even those who have fled the country would be arrested and tried.

This was a reference to the growing number of financial institution directors who have left the country fearing arrest for alleged financial misconduct. The state-owned Sunday Mail reports an increase in visa applications to the British Embassy by business executives fearful they will be the targets of investigations.

Some bank executives are under suspicion for dealing currency at black market rates.

The crackdown on corruption started late last year with the appointment of central bank manager Gideon Gono, who promised to clean up the financial sector. Since then, some senior managers at financial institution have been arrested, including members of Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party.

Last month, Mr. Mugabe introduced new regulations under which a person suspected of having committed financial crimes or corruption can be arrested without a warrant, and be detained and denied bail for up to twenty-one days. A member of Mr. Mugabe's party central committee and prominent businessman, James Makamba, has been held in custody since February 9 for allegedly failing to properly deposit foreign currency in Zimbabwean banks.

One of the bankers who is alleged to be on the run in London wrote a letter to the governor of the central bank that was published in the weekly newspaper, The Tribune. The letter says he and his colleagues are not fugitives from justice but are worried that under the new regulations they would assumed guilty until proven innocent. He dismissed the charges against his bank as a politically motivated witch hunt.

The anti-corruption campaign has been met with mixed feelings by Zimbabweans, with many waiting to see how much will actually be done. But the Zimbabwe office of the anti-corruption group Transparency International, which has been critical of President Mugabe in the past, says this time he is on the right track. One of its program officers in Harare is Idaishe Chengu.

"We would like to commend what the government has done we feel that what the government is doing is right but we would like to see the government do more, there is corruption in other sectors of our economy as well," she said. "So whilst we commend what President Mugabe has done we still think there are other strategically placed people who have a case to answer."

Meanwhile, Mr. Gono, the central bank governor who is close to the president, says he has received what he calls "serious death threats." He says they come from corrupt bank managers, politicians and business owners who blame him for the anti-corruption drive. An independent weekly newspaper, The Standard, reports that Mr. Gono is now under round-the-clock police protection.