Christopher Thompson, Jonathan Calvert and Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas
BARCLAYS is bankrolling President Robert Mugabes corrupt regime in Zimbabwe by providing substantial loans to cronies given land seized from white farmers.
The British bank lent £750m to the countrys new landowning elite in the first half of this year, mostly through a government scheme to boost farm productivity.
This weekend Barclays was under pressure to say whether it had lent money to five of Mugabes ministers each named in European Union sanctions.
The Sunday Times has established that the five have received cash for their farms under the scheme to which Barclays is one of the main contributors.
They include Didymus Mutasa, the national security minister, who helped to orchestrate the controversial land-grab policy that left 4,000 white farmers without homes or livelihoods.
The countrys human rights abuses have made it an international pariah. Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has said he will boycott the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon next month if Mugabe remains on the guest list.
Despite the worldwide condemnation, Barclays, which faced criticism for operating in South Africa during the apartheid years, has remained one of only a handful of banks with extensive operations in Zimbabwe. It has recently been opening new branches in the country.
This weekend Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP who has a long-standing interest in African affairs, said he would ask David Miliband, the foreign secretary, to investigate whether the Barclays loans had breached EU sanctions. He said: The loans sustain the regime and individuals within the regime and those who profited from the violent land-grab. Its morally questionable.
Many of the farms now funded by Barclays were forcibly taken by mobs organised by Mugabes Zanu-PF party. They were distributed to leading figures in the regime, even though the policy was intended to give farms to landless black Zimbabweans. The beneficiaries included Mugabe himself, who is said to have three estates.
The land-grab policy proved a disaster for agricultural production, turning the former bread basket of Africa into a country where many people are said to be on the brink of starvation.
To increase productivity, the government is now offering loans to farmers to buy machinery and supplies under a scheme called the Agricultural Sector Productivity Enhancement Facility (Aspef).
Barclays is required to finance the loans under Aspef as part of a set of conditions laid down by the Zimbabwean government which permit it to operate in the country, where it made £34m in profit last year. Its £750m Aspef loans are an increase of 17% on the previous year.
At least five ministers have received loans through Aspef. They are Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, minister of information and publicity; Patrick Chinamasa, minister of justice; Rugare Gumbo, minister of agriculture; Webster Shamu, minister for policy implementation; and Mutasa.
Ndlovu confirmed that ministerial colleagues and other party members were seeking the Aspef cash. Yes, my colleagues applied and they should have received the funding, he said.
The ministers are on a list of 131 regime figures who are blacklisted as a result of EU sanctions on Zimbabwe. The sanctions say: No funds or economic resources shall be made available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of people on the list].
Barclays refused to confirm or deny whether the ministers or other blacklisted regime figures were its customers, on the basis of client confidentiality. The bank said it closely audited its Zimbabwe operations to ensure no sanctions were breached.
However, a source close to the bank said he had seen Shamus paperwork for a Barclays loan. Farmers take out loans with individual banks through Aspef. Among the other institutions which offer loans is Standard Chartered, a British bank, which also refused to say whether it loaned to regime members on the basis of client confidentiality..
Yesterday Zimbabwe opposition figures called for an investigation into how the Barclays funds had been spent. Barclays is giving money to this regime and propping it up in an opaque process, said Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change.
He said the agricultural loans were used as a vehicle of personal wealth accumulation for the regime.
Barclays dealings in Zimbabwe have angered former farmers who lost their land. Derrick Arlett-Johnson, who fled his farm in the Midlands province, said: Theyre loaning money to people who have taken something illegally. So in fact they are assisting in a crime, in my opinion.
A spokeswoman for Barclays said the bank had operated in Zimbabwe since 1912 and had 1,000 employees and a network of 20 branches serving 150,000 retail, business and corporate customers in the country.
We are committed to continuing to provide a service to those customers in what is clearly a difficult operating environment. We are also committed to the welfare of our employees, she said.
They aren't the only ones, but many of the multinationals still working in Zimbabwe have had to adjust to effectively working under a criminal regime. Standard and Barclays have both done the same sort of thing in other African countries under the usual African operating conditions. In Zimbabwe the gross corruption of individual Ministers is merely more blatant than elsewhere. In a few years' time some of those named will be seeking asylum in the UK, so they're probably busy transferring funds into Euros as we write.