MIAMI – Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, and his family are Zimbabwe Airways shareholders — the new carrier created to avoid massive debts of the bankrupt state-own airline, Air Zimbabwe.

According to the Financial Gazette, “multiple aviation sources” confirmed that Mugabe and his family are beneficial shareholders of the airline that was recently registered in Mauritius, an African well-known tax heaven.

Zimbabwe Airways will be launched in the next couple of weeks and Mugabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore, set up a new company that is searching new licenses to fly to London and the Far East.

Chikore is Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Air Zimbabwe and is expected to be named Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Zimbabwe Airways.

Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) CEO, David Chaota said, “I am sure they did [complete licensing process] but not from the CAAZ perspective. Airline licenses are obtained from the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development. So I don’t know yet if Zimbabwe Airways has the license and who owns it because we haven’t received the papers.”

Also, Jacob Mafume of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party said in a statement, “a deal can be negotiated on behalf of the state and then turned into a family entity is criminal, Zimbabweans must be angry. The law of the land does not allow a president to use his official position for personal gain. The first family has become a center of corruption and looting and is a disgrace.”

However, Air Zimbabwe has a remaining debt of more than $300 million and has been banned to operate flights to European destinations, over safety concerns. There is speculation that setting up a new airline may be a way avoid restrictions.

In fact, in 2012, Air Zimbabwe was grounded at London-Gatwick for two weeks by a U.S. supplier of spare parts until the debt was finally paid. The airline ceased flying to London afterward.

Joram Gumbo, Zimbabwe Transport Minister, said that the First Family is not linked financially to the new carrier, even though the names of beneficial shareholders “do not appear” in company records.

When asked on Tuesday by Zimbabwe’s state television, Gumbo told that the shareholders of the new airline were “enterprising private investors.”

Gumbo added that the new airline would operate the international long-haul services “abandoned” by Air Zimbabwe. The routes were ceased due to a combination of debt, lack of conditions to operate with improper equipment.

Air Zimbabwe has a history of 70 years and has a remaining fleet of six aircraft with four in order, even though there are only three functional airplanes, and one of them, a Boeing 767, is used for Mugabe’s monthly flights.

Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767. PHOTO: Jefferry

Nevertheless, reports from the African country media said Zimbabwe Airways is set to lease two Boeing 777s from Malaysia Airlines.

“We were on the same flight with the first family, on their way to Singapore, while I dropped off in Malaysia for the lease negotiations. I then followed them to Singapore, and we returned back together,” Gumbo said.

Zimbabwe Airlines is also trying to hire Boeing 777 pilots through a company named Sigma. The company is telling applicants that although Air Zimbabwe is in financial straits, it is working for Zimbabwe Airways, to secure pilots at higher rates of pay.

Air Zimbabwe flies daily to Johannesburg and has routes to Tanzania and Zambia. It has a fleet of one Airbus A320-200, two Boeing 767-200ERs, two Boeing 767-200ERs, one Xian MA60, and an order of four Boeing 777-200ERs, curiously to be acquired from Malaysia Airlines.

Boeing 767-200ER. PHOTO: FC Georgio.

Even though Mugabe’s family maintains a wealthy lifestyle with lavish spending, the African country is drowned by a deep economic crisis that affects every industry and led the 70-years Air Zimbabwe to bankruptcy.

It is estimated that the flagship carrier will not be able to keep subsidizing the real cost of air tickets between South Africa and Zimbabwe for much longer. And the maintenance of the new Boeing 777s will probably drown financially the state-owned carriers even more.