By Lance Guma
17 July 2012
Controversial property developer, Ken Sharpe is in the news once again over his plans to build a massive new shopping mall in Harare’s posh Borrowdale suburb.
Concern has however been raised after he was named in a leaked US diplomatic cables sent by the then US ambassador to Harare, James McGee.
In November 2008 McGee filed a cable in which he cited African Consolidated Resources chief Andrew Cranswick alleging that Sharpe, Greg Scott and Hendrik O’Neill were part of a ZANU PF syndicate looting diamonds from Marange.
Sharpe plans to build what some have called the second largest shopping mall in Africa. The ‘Zimbabwe Shopping Mall’ as it is being called is going to be built on wetlands in Borrowdale. Activists are outraged at the environmental havoc that could be created if the wetlands are destroyed.
A report by the Daily News newspaper says the building plans have not been approved by the Environmental Management Authority or the Harare City Council, while nearby residents have also fiercely objected to the project. Sharpe however is well connected in ZANU PF and appears to have bulldozed his plans through.
Last week Sharpe roped in Information Minister Webster Shamu to intimidate the Daily News, telling them not to give the project negative publicity. Sharpe’s daughter Tatiana joined the fray using her website to accuse “the negative press” of trying to “sabotage all positive steps” by ‘investors’ like her dad.
Sharpe who is said to have a Zimbabwean, British and South African passport was in July 2010 also caught in the middle of a major international spy scandal. The British intelligence agency MI5 was reported to have been probing his links to a Russian spy at the centre of an American espionage ring.
A UK Daily Mail report said the MI5 was looking at links between alleged spy Anna Chapman and the Russian-speaking Sharpe. The paper said Chapman worked with Sharpe for three years at a British registered company ‘Southern Union’ which moved millions of pounds between Zimbabwe and the UK as a ‘money transfer service.’
On the Zimbabwean side of the operation a ‘bagman’, known as Vitaly, distributed the money in cash to the recipients. When spiralling inflation began to affect the operation the syndicate began to trade in gold ingots and gems to secure foreign currency which would then make its way back into bank accounts.
The Daily Mail spoke to a former client who said: ‘We had Russians and Ukrainians running most of the business from our offices in Harare. Businesses all over Zimbabwe relied on us. We were not the only money-smugglers but we were the biggest.’
One report in the UK Telegraph said: “Mr Sharpe was introduced to Mrs Chapman by her father, Vasily Kushchenko, a former member of the KGB who was posted to Zimbabwe as a member of the diplomatic staff in Harare and now works in the Kremlin.”
September 2011 saw the launch of the re-branded wholesaler, Red Star Holdings in which Sharpe is the chief executive officer. Minister Shamu was again in the company of Sharpe at that launch, just as he was last week when he summoned editors and told the Daily News to lay off criticising the businessman.
SW Radio Africa sought comment from African Consolidated Resources chief Andrew Cranswick on his reported claims that Sharpe was part of a ZANU PF syndicate looting diamonds. Cranswick denied ever telling Ambassador McGee anything of the sort. We were also unable to get hold of Mr. Sharpe, but will continue to try to do so.
To contact this journalist e-mail [email protected] or twitter @LanceGuma