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Zimbabwe's health minister charged in COVID-19 graft case

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s health minister on Saturday was charged with criminal abuse of duty as a public officer, accused of illegally awarding a multi-million-dollar contract for COVID-19 medical supplies to a shadowy company that sold the government $28 face masks and other materials at inflated prices.

The country’s anti-corruption agency arrested Obadiah Moyo on Friday and the government cancelled the contracts following public uproar. One of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s sons was forced to issue a statement denying a link to the company after pictures emerged of the Zimbabwean representative of the firm enjoying the company of the president and his wife and sons at several events.

The representative, Delish Nguwaya, and some top officials of the national drugs procurement agency are already facing criminal charges related to the scandal. Nguwaya is accused of lying in saying the company was a drugs manufacturing company based in Switzerland, “whereas it was merely a consulting company with no experience in the manufacture of drug and medical products,” according to the charge sheet.

The health minister, a former hospital administrator, faces a fine or up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He was granted bail and will be back in court on July 31. The prosecution originally opposed bail, arguing he could flee before the conclusion of the case, but did not request that in court.

According to the charge sheet, Moyo “exerted pressure” on his subordinates to award the contracts worth $60 million last year and this year. The scandal comes as health professionals including nurses and doctors in Zimbabwe are on strike demanding to be paid their salaries in U.S. dollars. They argue that inflation that is now above 750% and the erosion of the value of local currency have rendered incomes worthless. Most traders charge for their goods in U.S. dollars in the southern African country that has long faced economic collapse.

The health professionals also have complained about lack of adequate protective gear as the number of coronavirus cases rises. Zimbabwe has nearly 500 cases.

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