Zimbabwe says raided private bank accounts

HARARE, April 20 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s central bank raided the private bank accounts of companies and donors to fund President Robert Mugabe’s government during the economic crisis, according to a central bank statement made available on Monday.

Central Bank Governor Gideon Gono said the central bank took foreign currency from private accounts to help pay for some $2 billion in loans to state-owned companies and utilities and for power and grain imports.

He said the government still had to repay about $1.2 billion to the central bank, which would allow it to repay money it owes private accounts.

“Immediate reimbursement to the central bank ... will enable the Reserve Bank to also reimburse all corporate and NGO foreign currency account dues,” the central bank said.

Gono, a close Mugabe ally, used the statement to defend his policies, which critics and the IMF say have fuelled hyperinflation and accelerated the country’s economic slide.

Gono has come under pressure from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to resign since the former opposition party joined Mugabe in a unity government in February. Donors are also reportedly pressing for his ouster before providing funds to the new government.

Gono said the political crisis prompted him to take money from bank accounts.

“It was a political problem and not an economic one that drove us into the difficulties this nation experienced, and quasi-fiscal operations were a response to those political challenges we have now resolved through the inclusive government,” the statement said.

“Our call is to let bygones be bygones and for everyone and every entity to start anew and open a new page.”

The country’s gold miners say the central bank owes them over $30 million, while the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria said last year that the bank had taken $7.3 million from its Zimbabwe account. It said the central bank later returned the funds.

Gono’s statement also listed more than 1,000 vehicles the central bank had bought and distributed to various ministries, government departments and state enteprises.