Zimbabwean police are investigating the country’s top mobile telephone operator Econet Wireless for suspected money laundering, according to a search warrant issued Friday.
Police want the telecommunications giant to disclose its customers’ details and records of all transactions conducted within the first half of 2020 as a stand-off between the government and the company mounts.
In a dramatic move, the government last month abruptly suspended mobile money transactions provided by telephone operators, the most widely used platform to make and receive payments in the crisis-ridden country.
The services continued for daily individual transactions but were capped for merchant transactions.
Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana blamed mobile money transfer platforms for galloping inflation, and said that the government was in “possession of impeccable intelligence” that telephone service providers were involved in illicit activities that were sabotaging the country’s economy.
The government also suspended all trade on the country’s stock exchange, which it accused of being complicit in illicit financial activities.
In Friday’s search warrant, police specialist investigator Mkhululi Nyoni said he had “reasonable grounds to suspect that Econet Wireless… is involved in money laundering activities”.
Police said there is information that the firm has fraudulently created fake subscribers to transfer mobile money to other accounts, to be converted to cash.
“The runners would in turn buy foreign currency in the black market before being externalised (abroad),” said the warrant.
The company, which has some 10.5 million customers, was ordered to surrender all the requested documents within seven days.
Econet’s spokesman Fungai Mandiveyi declined to comment.
Mobile money payments account for most electronic payment transactions in the country, which is critically short of bank notes.
Zimbabwe is being buffeted by its worst economic crisis in over a decade, including scarcity of basics like fuel and cornmeal.