A woman shows Zimbabwe's new banknotes in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 12 2019. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
A woman shows Zimbabwe's new banknotes in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 12 2019. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Thursday ordered an investigation  of two local banks, Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ) and Ecobank, for funnelling newly introduced banknotes to the black market.

The cash-starved southern African country on Tuesday introduced new banknotes and coins to curtail a three-year-old cash crisis that has kept hard currency out of reach for  most citizens.

There were long queues at all banks in Harare as people lined up for cash, but most were unable to make withdrawals as the more than ZWL$30m pumped into circulation ran out quickly.

To the shock of many, tens of thousands of the freshly minted notes were readily available on the black market and were displayed on social media despite most banks’ strict allocation of only ZWL$200 per person.

In some cases banks are allowing individuals to withdraw a maximum of just ZWL$300 a week.

In a statement, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya said Ecobank would face disciplinary action.

“The Bank (RBZ) has conducted investigations on the matter, and the findings are that the banknotes in the circulating pictures emanated from Ecobank. Preliminary investigations by the RBZ at Ecobank indicate that an amount of ZWL$15,000 was withdrawn by one customer. Ecobank, together with their customer, are now assisting the Zimbabwe Republic Police with further investigations on this matter.

“Appropriate disciplinary measures shall be taken against the bank and the customer and anyone else found responsible for such malpractices which bring the RBZ and the entire banking system into disrepute.”

In another statement, Mangudya said police were also probing CBZ.

“Investigations by RBZ at CBZ indicated that an amount of $44,180 was withdrawn by one of their customers. In this regard, CBZ bank together with their customer are now assisting the Zimbabwe Republic Police with further investigations.”

Following public outrage, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, announced on Twitter that a probe would be launched to find out how the money had left the banking system.