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'Mugabe's wife raids bank vaults'

Africa

Robert Mugabe's wife Grace has allegedly drawn a large sum of foreign exchange from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to bankroll her family holiday in the Far East, despite her country's crippling economic crisis.

At a time when more than 1 700 Zimbabweans have perished from cholera, despite the release of a R300-million relief package from South Africa, authoritative sources say Grace showed no restraint and withdrew US$92 000 (about R890 000) from the central bank to fund her month-long holiday in Malaysia.

The withdrawal comes after Grace's $80 000 shopping spree in Rome in June last year on the sidelines of a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation summit, to which Mugabe was invited.

Grace left with her four children shortly before Christmas for what has become the Mugabe family's annual pilgrimage to Malaysia, where there are unsubstantiated reports that Zimbabwe's first family have long had a family home.

Grace has three biological children with Mugabe and her own son, Russel, from her first marriage to a former Air Force of Zimbabwe officer, Stanley Goreraza, who ditched her after she began dating the soon to be 85-year-old Zimbabwean leader, for whom she worked as a secretary.

Grace was on Monday joined by Mugabe, who took his month-long leave despite the economic and political crisis plaguing his country.

Sources say Mugabe could not have missed joining his wife as he needed to go for his regular medical check-ups facilitated by his doctor, Mahmood Awang Kechik.

The US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed financial sanctions on Kechik in November over his close relationship with Mugabe.

Kechik, a urologist, not only acted as Mugabe's personal physician but subsequently began facilitating Mugabe's business and financial dealings in Malaysia.

The Saturday Star understands that Kechik became a reliable personal contact for the Mugabes for their dealings in Malaysia and Singapore - where they transferred most of their assets from Europe ahead of the imposition of EU targeted sanctions on Mugabe and his officials several years ago.

He was also close to central bank governor Gideon Gono and a few ministers and senior army officials who had also switched their wealth to the Far East.

Mugabe was this week roundly condemned by his countrymen who felt that it was heartless for him to go and splurge on a holiday while his country burns.

But Zimbabwe's strongman has never shown much restraint in the face of his people's suffering.

He has since vacated his fairly modest official residence in Harare and now lives with his family in a plush three-storey mansion in Harare's exclusive Borrowdale suburb built at an estimated cost of US$25-million.

There were conflicting suggestions about Mugabe's holiday moves. Some information suggested that he could be back home early to attend a planned SADC summit on Zimbabwe, in the event that it is confirmed, while others suggested that he will take his time on holiday while he awaits the Zimbabwean parliament to approve a bill paving the way for an increasingly doubtful unity government with Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba earlier this week said Mugabe was not so much on holiday but using his leave to reflect on the Zimbabwean crisis.

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