The state-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI)'s controversial sale of weapons of war to the 70 suspected mercenaries currently held in Harare deepened this week following claims that a local businessman facilitated the deal.
Sources said businessman Martin Bird introduced alleged mercenary leader Simon Mann and his team earlier this year to ZDI chief executive Colonel Tshinga Dube.
It is understood Bird connected Mann and his associates, who included Nick Du Toit, to Dube for negotiations about the arms deal. Du Toit is currently detained in Equatorial Guinea over allegations of planning a coup against President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. It is alleged Mann and his group were arrested in Harare on their way to Equatorial Guinea.
Bird and Dube are said to be long-standing business associates. Sources said after Bird introduced Mann to Dube and other ZDI officials the deal was struck. ZDI official, Group Captain Hope Mutize, was involved in the deal which the state claimed last week in court was part of a well-orchestrated sting operation against the mercenaries.
"Bird made it clear that while he did not want to be directly party to the arms deal, he wanted something for providing the contact with Dube and also for administering the transaction behind-the-scenes," a source said.
However, Bird yesterday denied being involved in the deal between ZDI and the mercenaries. He said although he knew Dube and Mutize he was not part of the arms deal.
"Yes, I know Dube and I know Mutize but I don't know who Mann is. Of course, I have read about him in the newspapers but I have never met him," Bird said.
"I don't know where this thing comes from. I have been asked about it by other people but I wasn't involved in anything like that. I don't worry too much about it because it's not true."
Mutize referred questions to Dube who said he could not discuss the issue as it was sub judice. Mutize handled the transactions and payment for the arms, it is reported. The state prosecutor Mary Zimba-Dube last week said Mutize received a deposit of US$90 000 for the "dangerous weapons" which cost US$180 000 in total.
ZDI, which supplies army uniforms, field equipment and ammunition, sold arms to the suspects without an end-user certificate. The arms included 61 AK-47 assault rifles and 45 000 rounds of ammunition, 300 offensive hand grenades, 20 PKM light machines guns and 30 000 rounds of ammunition, 50 PRM machine guns, and 100 RPG 7 anti-tank launchers and 1 000 rounds of ammunition.
While the state has claimed that the deal was part of a trap to arrest the alleged mercenaries, questions have arisen about the role of ZDI in the capture of the accused and transparency of the operation insofar as the purported dummy sale of the weapons was concerned.