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Zimbabwe Finance Minister Arrested - 2004-04-24

The Zimbabwe finance minister, Chris Kuruneri, has been arrested for allegedly dealing illegally in foreign currency.

Mr. Kuruneri, who was appointed finance minister in President Robert Mugabe's Cabinet reshuffle earlier this year, was arrested following reports in a South African newspaper that he was building a large multi-million-dollar house in an up-market neighborhood in Cape Town.

Mr. Kuruneri admitted he was building the Cape Town mansion, and said he also owned other properties in South Africa. But he said he used proceeds from consultancy work he had done outside Zimbabwe, and therefore had not broken the law.

His arrest is part of a crackdown on corruption and financial crime, which started late last year. Since then, a number of senior financial institution managers and members of Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party have been arrested.

At the same time a number of Zimbabwe businessmen left the country, apparently fearing arrest for allegedly "externalizing" millions of dollars.

A member of Mr. Mugabe's party central committee and prominent businessman, James Makamba, has been held in custody since February ninth for allegedly sending foreign currency abroad. His many efforts to be released on bail have so far failed.

The president has said there would be no immunity for anyone caught in the anti-corruption sweep. But some Zimbabweans are skeptical. Opposition politicians have charged that the exercise was what they called "cheap electioneering" ahead of general elections early next year.

Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence 24 years ago. It suffers from a shortage of foreign currency and hyper-inflation.

Mr. Mugabe has denied allegations of mismanagement and corruption and blames external forces for wanting to bring down his government for his controversial and sometimes violent land reform program, which saw white farmers losing their holdings to make way for landless blacks.