Zimbabwean police investigate finance minister

HARARE Sun Jun 24, 2012 8:42am EDT

Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Tendai Biti addresses a media conference in Harare March 14,2012. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Tendai Biti addresses a media conference in Harare March 14,2012.

Credit: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

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HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean police said on Sunday they had launched an investigation connected with finance minister Tendai Biti, and a state-owned newspaper said the probe was over the disappearance of $20 million in a failed bank.

Biti told the Sunday Mail he was not responsible for the missing money, which was part of a 2009 emergency International Monetary Fund (IMF) facility and intended to help distressed manufacturing firms.

The paper said Biti had transferred the money from the IMF into local bank Interfin, closed this month due to a liquidity crisis.

"Yes the money is missing. The fact that Interfin was appointed the fund manager means it was them who were handling the money and not me," he told the Sunday Mail.

"I no longer had a say on how the money was managed."

Assistant police commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena told Reuters on Sunday: "There is an investigation going on but I cannot give any details at the moment." Biti could not be directly contacted on Sunday.

Biti is a senior figure in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is in an uneasy power-sharing administration with President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF. He is among MDC leaders bitterly attacked by Mugabe in recent months.

The $20 million, part of a $500 million IMF emergency package, had been at Interfin for a year without generating interest before it disappeared, the newspaper said.

The money had been part of $150 million allocated for agriculture and infrastructure projects. A further $142 million was used to pay off a debt to the IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Fund and $110 million to ease a cash squeeze at the beginning of this year. The remaining funds are yet to be used.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by Andrew Roche)

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