The 46-year-old Katumbi, who is also the Governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a member of the Confederation of African Football Marke-ting Commission, owns reigning African club football champions TP Mazembe and is a rich businessman with vast interests in mining and transport in his country.
The Herald can reveal today that two Harare businessmen, working closely with Malawian football consultant Felix Sapao, approached Dynamos board chairman Richard Chiminya at his offices in the capital on Monday — a day after the Glamour Boys had slumped to a 0-2 defeat to TP Mazembe at the National Sports Stadium — with a secret offer purported to be coming from Katumbi.
No comment could be obtained from either Katumbi or TP Mazembe last night.
But the shadowy scheme could taint the image of TP Mazembe, who are one of the richest clubs on the continent and are the defending club champions, in a tournament that has always been blighted by allegations that it does not promote the spirit of Fair Play amid concerns that some of the clubs use their financial weight to get favou-rable results.
Matters came to a head 10 years ago when Tunisian referee Mourad Dammi travelled to Ghana as a guest of his home club Esperance, who were playing Hearts of Oak in a Champions League final, and then went into the match officials’ dressing room and tried to influence South African referee Robbie Williams to call off the match amid crowd trouble in Accra.
Such a decision would have favoured Espera-nce, who were trailing at that stage, and Dammi was subsequently banned for a year by Caf but was back in business, just a few months after his suspension, and was even given the honour to handle the 2006 Nations Cup final between hosts Egypt and Cote d’Ivoire in Cairo.
Sapao, who is the local agent of French television marketing company SportFive that holds the broadcasting rights of the African Champions League, also has very close links to TP Mazembe and worked as part of their backroom staff during their successful Champi-ons League campaign last year.
He was a key figure in brokering the deals that took a number of Monomotapa players from their base in Harare for a stint at TP Mazembe at the beginning of the year and was also at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday where he was part of the five-man team that accompanied Katumbi, under heavy security and police guard, into the dressing rooms at half-time.
Sapao runs a company called Digital Arts Media and Sports, which is based in Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre, but now spends most of his time in Harare which he has turned into a convenient base for his business transactions that are primarily based on football across the continent.
On Monday he teamed up with two Harare businessmen, including a former Dynamos chairman, and went to Chiminya’s office in the capital where they dangled a US$400 000 carrot, wrapped as an aid package, to help the Glamour Boys — who are struggling to raise funds to bankroll their Champions League campaign — fulfil four of their remaining five matches in the tournament.
The meeting was also attended by Dynamos board vice-chairman Freddie Mkwesha and the club’s chief executive officer Casper Muzenda.
The three middlemen claimed that they had an offer, from Katumbi, to help Dynamos with a package that would ease their financial stress and help the Glamour Boys focus on their remaining matches.
They claimed Katumbi, who wants TP Mazembe to successfully defend its Champions League crown this year, wanted a competitive Dynamos in the group so as to help ease the threat that is posed by Esperance and Algerian side Entente Sportive, rather than a Glamour Boys’ side — torn apart by financial woes — that would turn into a punching bag for the rest of the group members.
Sources said Katumbi played the same card last year when he allegedly offered Monomotapa a cash payment to help them cover their costs and make them focus on their final Champions League tie against Heartland of Nigeria — a result which was key in deciding who tops the group and avoids the winner of the other group — which the Zimbabwean team won 2-1 at Rufaro.
TP Mazembe duly topped the group.
Monoz had threatened to withdraw from the Champions League, after being weighed down by serious financial challenges, and — with TP Mazembe having beaten them 5-0 in Lubumbashi and 2-0 in Harare — the Congolese side risked not only losing six points but seven goals should the results of the Zimbabwean team be nullified in the event that it failed to complete its assignments in the group.
Rodwell Dhlakama, who was the Monomotapa coach at the time, has always complained bitterly that he believes the playing field was not level in those two games.
Although TP Mazembe rolled past Monoz, the Congolese side still brewed up a shocker and bought four players from the Harare team —Daniel Zokoto, Mthulisi Maphosa, Chris Samakweri and Darryl Nyadoro — with only the gangling Nyandoro turning into the player who is being regularly used by the African champions.
On Monday, the focus apparently shifted to Dynamos and sources at the club revealed that the initial meeting at Chiminya’s office resulted in a decision being passed for a DeMbare delegation
to travel to Lubumbashi on Wednesday where they would be handed their US$400 000 package.
The money was split into four tranches, of US$100 000 each, which would cover each of Dynamos’ two away matches against Esperance and Entente Sportive and the two home matches against the same sides in Harare.
Dynamos’ match against TP Mazembe, either in Kinshasa or Lubumbashi, was not covered by the deal.
Muzenda, club secretary-general Oliver Manyau and a man who was supposed to travel as Dynamos chairman, filling in the shoes of incumbent executive boss Farai Munetsi, were tasked with flying to the DRC on Wednesday and then returning home yesterday.
Tickets for their travel were immediately booked with a Harare travel agency and the trip was sanctioned.
The following day things changed.
The Dynamos executive, headed by Munetsi, met in the capital to review their Champions League loss to TP Mazembe and the Dynamos chairman advised his fellow executive members that some of the board members, notably Robson Rundaba and Bernard Marriot, were strongly against the planned trip.
Munetsi felt that such a gesture compromised Dynamos, not only in the eyes of their fans, but also in the eyes of the sponsors who were backing their cause, and — given that they still had an outstanding match against TP Mazembe — accepting the money would be tantamount to throwing away that game long before it had been played.
The executive then resolved to reject the offer and called Chiminya advising him to either cancel the proposed trip or they would resign en-masse.
At that point Chiminya advised them that, after scrutinising the offer at length, he had also decided that it was not good for the club and had already made a decision to cancel the trip.
But the Dynamos executive members still felt that their players remained vulnerable, either given their links to agents involved or associated to the people who had acted as middlemen, and felt that by initially accepting the offer on Monday, the board had erred badly and compromised their players who could still be approached clandestinely given the financial challenges facing the club.
"The executive committee then mandated Munetsi, as their boss, to write a letter of protest to Chiminya — on behalf of the leadership — where he would express their concerns at what they believed to be undue interference by the board, especially by the chief executive Muzenda, on issues that had nothing to do with the board," said the sources last night.
"There was also concern within the executive committee that a fake Dynamos chairman had been lined up to represent Munetsi on that trip to the DRC and, as of Monday, that issue had received the blessings of the club’s board chairman until his change of heart on Tuesday.
"There is a storm right now at the club because of that issue and the danger is that, even though the official channels have been closed, the money could still be brought and be given to the players in other secret ways."
Dynamos secretary-general Manyau said he was only prepared to confirm that his club had turned down the offer on professional grounds and was not at liberty to discuss other issues.
Sapao yesterday left Harare for the Lubumbashi but not before demanding the money that he used to book the tickets, for the cancelled fight, for the three Dynamos representatives.
He also sent an e-mail to Manyau expressing his displeasure at the sudden turn of events.
"It is quite unfortunate that your executive chairman didn’t want you guys to travel to DR Congo. Club politics," wrote Sapao on Thursday.
"I spoke with Governor Katumbi yesterday and the amount he was offering for the games and Esperance and Satif (both home and away) was US$100 000 per game (total US$400 000).
"He (Katumbi) says that (there) are no second chances for offers from him."
Dynamos have since approached a leading local bank for a loan to help them foot their expensive trip to Tunisia next week.