Monday, July 4, 2022

Guma / Olopeng corruption case reignites the Botswana / China diplomatic row

The simmering diplomatic row between Botswana and China flared back into the open this week as China accused Botswana senior government officials of peddling lies. 

This follows a testimony in court by the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) attorney Dumisani Marapo that they are still awaiting a response from the Chinese embassy in relation to documents that had to be translated in a case in which former Assistant Minister of Finance Guma Moyo and the current Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Thapelo Olopeng are facing corruption charges. 

This week the Chinese embassy reacted angrily to reports that some documents from the DPP have been forwarded to their secretariat for purposes of translation and that the embassy was to blame for the delay of progress in the case. 

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Chinese embassy spokesperson Tang Shenping fired a broadside at the Botswana Government officials for what he described as unnecessary peddling of lies against the Chinese authorities. 

He accused Botswana government officials of hiding behind the Chinese Embassy by using it as a scapegoat for their inefficiency. He urged Botswana senior government officials to desist from claiming that the Chinese Embassy is delaying or refusing to assist them in translating certain documents.

Shenping said they have observed that some government accounting officials are not properly putting their books (documents) in order possibly due to their incompetence.

He cited an incident in which the Chinese Government was recently accused of failing to assist the Ministry of Health in translating certain documents from Chinese to English.

 “But when we engage them through proper diplomatic channels we find that they are the ones at fault. Just recently another department and worse for that matter, the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) claimed that they have sent some documents to us.

“But upon inquiry from top DPP management we were advised that it was a mistake because the person who had uttered such words against the Chinese government was a police officer and his position does not allow him to utter such comments in court,” said Tang.

The Telegraph can reveal that recently DPP through Senior Council Dumisani Marapo argued in court during the hearing of Moyo-Olopeng case that they have sent some documents to Chinese Embassy for purposes of helping the directorate to translate Chinese to English. 

This was in order to help DPP and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime DCEC to extend their investigations against Guma and Olopeng alleged corruption case. 

This came after attorneys representing Guma and Olopeng had argued that the DPP is not communicating to them about progress in their investigations. They further expressed concern that Moyo and Olopeng’s financial accounts were frozen for almost a year now and wanted to know when the investigations would be completed for them to be able to have access to their accounts.

Replying, Marapo said they had completed their investigations in Zimbabwe and were waiting for South African authorities to respond.

“But as for China the documents are still at the Embassy because they have to be translated into Chinese language before we can extend our investigations to China,” said Marapo. 

Responding to Marapo’s argument, Shenping took exception saying the Chinese Embassy in Gaborone has not been approached by DCEC or DPP regarding any alleged corruption allegations against Moyo or Olopeng.

‘’I just saw these accusation in newspapers. But when we contacted DPP they said the person who  had uttered such remarks made a mistake because the matter is very confidential and cannot be handled in that way by investigating officer like Marapo,” said Shenping.

“Our position is that this is baseless and incorrect because DPP has never approached us to assist them and we have never received any request from them and it is irresponsible of them to say things like that.”  

Shenping said DPP should stop behaving like the Ministry of Health and use proper diplomatic channels in dealing with China. 

‘’Yes we have different opinions but it is not that the relationship between us and Botswana government is boiling over. It is just some differences which can be addressed through proper diplomatic channels not accusing us without giving proof. We have observed that some senior government officials are using us as an excuse for their failure to account to their superiors,” said Shenping.

Shenping said they don’t translate English to Chinese and they have not done that before except to assist government with locating an agency in China which would then help them in whatever they want.

“We have done that before where they were investigating a glass manufacturing company and we assisted them,” said Shenping.

He added that although Botswana and China had some diplomatic tensions in the past regarding the statement made by Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the geopolitical disputes in the South China Sea, that tension has not disturbed bilateral relations. 

“The small accusation that came after that will seem to suggest to the media and public that we are not positively cooperative with Botswana Government.” 

Government Spokesperson Jeff Ramsay said they will investigate such matters and engage the Chinese Embassy to resolve any issues with government departments.

‘’As much as I know there is no need to engage the Embassy to translate because there are Batswana who know Chinese except if it is an exceptional case,” said Ramsay.

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