The tale of a Zimbabwean entrepreneur who has seen it all

PUBLISHED: Fri, 23 Dec 2016 10:02:34 GMT
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This article first appeared in Forbes Africa and is republished with its permission. Subscribe today by contacting Shanna Jacobsen Shanna.Jacobsen@abn360.com

Call him unlucky or dodgy, whichever way you look at it, Zimbabwean financier and moneylender, Frank Buyanga, can fight.

He was trapped in his adopted country, South Africa, after Interpol issued him with a so-called ‘red notice’ in February 2012. This is issued to a person subject to an arrest warrant or one who is required to serve a sentence. He fought,  using the law, to clear his name. He is now free to travel and do business at home.

At the root of it all was his money-lending business in Zimbabwe. Buyanga’s borrowers secured their loans with their homes. Every now and again, defaulters refused to give up their houses, leading to litigation and growing disgruntlement. The government called the loans a sham.

“The police made sure I was absent by arresting me. By me being absent, all these complainants were able to go and lie to the courts, police and judges. To some extent, they were successful because I wasn’t around to defend my position because I was busy fighting a criminal case. There was no element of criminality in any of my transactions,” says Buyanga.

His lawyer Nick Kaufman fought tooth and nail for the matter to be resolved.

“Frank is a colorful character. People don’t like success stories, especially from people who show their wealth,” said Kaufman, an international lawyer who has represented Muammar Gaddafi’s children and the Democratic Republic of Congo leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, against war crimes, when interviewed by FORBES AFRICA in 2012.

“It’s a serious defamation of character, when you have somebody who is presumed innocent then his photograph appears with the likes of Osama bin Laden and his henchmen, then that in itself has an effect on a legitimate businessman who is trying to conduct activities,” he said.

Kaufman argued that the red notice offends the Interpol constitution in that it was tainted by political motives and offended the rules of Interpol in that it was essentially designed to coerce a resolution to what was effectively a civil case.

They won.

Buyanga says he later received a two-page letter, signed by the chief law officer in the attorney general’s office, Chris Mutangadura, reversing the notice.

“There was a lot of pressure from my side for the issue to be resolved. The National Prosecuting Authority was incorrectly advised in terms of how they came to the decision of putting me on the Interpol red notice. I think they realized that,” says Buyanga.

Able to travel freely, Buyanga continued with business in the country of his father’s birth.

“If I had it my way, I would sell all my businesses in Zimbabwe and go on holiday for the rest of my life. The problem is that, in that country, nobody can afford my businesses… I wouldn’t be sticking around there for these headaches,” he says.

In a limping economy, short of hard cash, people are reliant on lending; but problems that caused his red notice still persist.

As you read this, Buyanga has an arrest warrant out for him in Zimbabwe. He also has more than 200 cases before the courts brought forward by people who borrowed money from his company, Hamilton Finance. Most of these are him against “squatters”, as he calls them, living in his properties. He has been labeled a “loan shark” by some, yet others defend his business principles.

“We live in Africa which is still developing… whenever you do something that has some sort of relevance; people automatically look at you like a crook…,” says Kaufman.

Buyanga, the son of a former Zimbabwean civil servant, who was born in London, owns a Rolls Royce, Lamborghinis, an Aston Martin DB9 and others. He lives in a luxury flat at the Michelangelo Towers, in the heart of Sandton, near Johannesburg, and rubs shoulders with celebs, like former Liverpool and England footballer John Barnes.

“Four years ago, I was driving to Durban and my friend and I were following each other driving Lamborghinis. Police stopped us on the [highway] and said ‘can you put me in whatever you are doing, I know you are doing drugs’… this is the perception of people. Sometime ago, I was driving to Harare in an Aston Martin and a cop stopped me and said ‘I am not going to search you, tell me what you are carrying because you probably have gold in there. It’s a mental illness among our people,” he says.

Buyanga has been a subject of investigation for the past 25 years but has never been found guilty for any crime. Yet, if you google him, hundreds of articles of fraud pop up, including an arrest warrant for failure to attend court for conspiracy to fraud in the UK.

“I am not wanted in the UK, because my lawyers have been dealing with that issue. I don’t even know what the merits of the case in the UK are… My lawyers have asked for the Crown Prosecution in the UK to provide them with a file for the facts of that matter which they haven’t done. I have problems even here in South Africa. It doesn’t matter where you are… I follow the constitution in every country I am a resident at,” he says.

“I make sure we pay our taxes, we create employment. Persistence, drive, initiative is the only way I survive in Zimbabwe.”

The entrepreneur says he had his first company, in the UK, when he was 18 years old and he is not about to let anything pull him down.

“My dad and I started Summit Trading, a company that traded commodities. In 1999, I started Fercl Trading, an exporting company to the Middle East and Africa from the UK, at 19 years old,” he says.

In 2000, property was cheap in Zimbabwe because of the political unrest and economic downturn; Buyanga took advantage of this.

“I started buying property because it was cheap at the time. I used to go to auctions and buy and now I have hundreds of properties.”

He is also invested in business in South Africa in mining, finance, infrastructure, and consultancy. He also does business across the continent.

Lawsuits are breathing down his neck, but Buyanga lives to fight another day.

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