BARCLAYS bank is helping to fund Robert Mugabe's regime by providing substantial loans to regime supporters given land seized from white farmers, it emerged last night.
The UK bank has lent 750m to the African country's new landowning elite in the first half of this year, mostly through a government-run scheme to boost farm productivity.
This weekend, the bank was under pressure to say whether it had loaned any money to five of Mugabe's most senior ministers, who are each named in EU sanctions against the regime.
It has been established that the five ministers have received cash for their farms under the scheme to which Barclays is reportedly one of the main contributors.
The top Mugabe henchmen include Didymus Mutasa, the national security minister, who helped draw up and implement the controversial land policy that left 4,000 white farmers without their livelihoods.
Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb last night pledged to ask Foreign Secretary David Miliband to investigate whether the loans from the bank, which has recently been opening new branches in the country, had breached EU sanctions.
Lamb said: "The loans sustain the regime and individuals within the regime and those who profited from the violent land-grab. It's morally questionable."
A spokeswoman for Barclays said that the bank had operated in Zimbabwe since 1912. She added: "We are committed to continuing to provide a service to those customers in what is clearly a difficult operating environment. We are also committed to the welfare of our employees."
Mugabe's human rights abuses have made Zimbabwe an international pariah. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that he will boycott the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon next month if Mugabe is on the guest list for the meeting. In June, a campaign by Scotland on Sunday led to Mugabe being stripped of the honorary degree awarded to him for services to education in Africa in the Eighties by Edinburgh University.
Despite the current criticism, Barclays, which came under fire for operating in South Africa during the Apartheid era, has remained one of only a few banks operating among the chaos of the Zimbabwean economy, which is plagued by rampant inflation and chronic shortages of food and consumer goods. Inflation stands at over 7,900% - the world's highest.