The trial case of NetOne Vs suspended CEO Lazarus Muchenje and 8 others has kicked off today at the Harare magistrate courts.
This is a criminal case against the CEO which states of Criminal abuse of duty as a public officer defined in section 174(1)(a) of the criminal law, alternatively contravention of section 4 of the postal and telecommunications (International telecommunications rates.)
In this case Muchenje is being charged independently and jointly against 8 executives creating seven separate counts.
The case however comes at a time where the board which initially raised these charges against him has all but one, resigned enmasse at NetOne, where the state may be represented by the ministry as an interested player.
The major charge is on signing an interconnection agreement deal with Bankai, purchase of vehicles which were deemed older for good use, purchase of personal furniture, some packages he received as the executive and engaging in some transactions without board approval as these are the demands of a public entity .
Muchenje argued that the charges were malicious and misplaced insisted that he did all he could as the CEO in the best interest of the company and he got board approval for every activity that demanded so.
He also argued that NetOne was not a public entity although state controlled, insisting those requirements do not apply to NetOne.
NetOne however went on to arrest Chakona a former board member alleging that he authorized Muchenje unprocedurally, a case they are challenging at the courts.
According to the charge sheet accused number one, Lazarus Muchenje faces seven counts: “
“Count four, five, six and seven: Fraud as defined in section 136 of the criminal law.”
According to the charge sheet “The contract signed between the accused representing NetOne as its chief executive office and Bankai International (Pvt) Limited had no board approval.
“Sometime in the year 2019 accused one, accused two and accused three held several meetings with Parag Agarwal a director of Bankai(PVT) Limited, a Mauritious corporation. Parag Agarwal purpoted to be representing 6D (Pvt) Limited, an Indian Company. 6D (Pvt) Limited had supplied Netone with a service delivery platform and USSD server gateway and was owed US$1 000 000-00 by Netone. Parag Agarwal proposed to the accused persons that Netone should Provide (09) million minutes of on netvoice termimination service to Bankai (Pvt)
“The (09) million minutes were of a total cost of US1 000 000-00 having been valued at an interconnection rate of us$0.13 per minute. The interconnection rate of US$0.13 per minute is against the interconnection rate stipulated in section 4 of the postal and Telecommunications (International Telecommunications Rates) Amendment S.I 163 of 2008 which states that no license shall agree to receive less than the minimum internanational termination rate of US$0.20. Bankai would pay for the on-net voice terminations by offsetting the debt owed to 6 D Pvt Limited by Netone,” reads the charge sheet.
“The first accused instructed the second and third accused to cause Nyaradzai Shoko to initiate paper work for the agreement. Nyaradzai Shoko contacted 6D (Pvt) Limited and the company replied through an email that Parag Agarwal was nolonger porking for 6D (Pvt) Limited. The company further indicated that their company was not part to any deal being negotiated by Parag Agarwal. Accused one was advised of this development.
“The accused persons however went ahead with the deal. Accused one instructed accused two, Three and accused eight to exclude the clause that indicated the offsetting of 6 D (Pvt) Limited debt. On 10 December 2019 the accused persons caused Netone to enter into a contract with Bankai International Private Limited of Mauritius when they signed the Unilateral Buy Agreement.”
“After signing the agreement Bankai engineers connected their equipment which included a Telco bridge at Netone data centre. The telco bridge was configured in a way that allowed Bankai engineers access and control over the telecommunications traffic on that platform. “Accused one was informed by Netone engineers prior to the connection of the Telco Bridge of its national security risks but he insisted that the connection goes ahead. The connection thus granted Bankai (Pvt) limited a foreign company access to National security equipment. The security risk posed by the installation of unvetted equipment remains unquantified. The number of international calls that went through should have accrued to Netone can only be quantified by Bankai (Pvt) Limited,” reads the charge sheet.
In November 2019, Muchenje his acting Finance officer Tinashe Severa prejudiced NetOne of US$2,240 million “after unlawfully signing an interconnect agreement with Bankai International Private Limited, dated December 10 2019.” read part of the charge sheet.
Suspended CEO Lazarus Muchenje and board member Chakona appeared today before magistrate Mrs Vongai Guwurir.
Muchenje also appealed against his termination of contract using the infamous three months notice, a case that was heard by the High Court some 3 months ago, but the judge reserved his ruling to date.
Analysts have insisted that Muchenje is being persecuted for frustrating the return of ZTE to NetOne, a move which was quickly implemented , while he is on suspension.
The move however has costed NetOne more than USD $20million to implement, a move which in future has long term effects to ground the mobile network.