Former tourism minister Walter Mzembi’s hands “remain as white as snow,” a High Court judge ruled as he cleared him of corruption allegations.
The 57-year-old, who now lives in South Africa, was arrested after the late President Robert Mugabe was deposed in a military coup in November 2017.
Prosecutors charged him and four others including the then tourism secretary Magret Mukahanana Sangarwe of converting to their own use four Ford Ranger vehicles bought for use in the planning and during the United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference hosted by Zimbabwe in 2013.
Subsequently, Prosecutor General Kumbirai Hodzi filed a High Court application seeking the forfeiture of the vehicles which he said should have been handed over to the tourism ministry at the end of the UNWTO conference.
But Justice David Mangota of the Harare High Court, in a judgement made available this week, ruled that the Prosecutor General had no reasonable interest in the vehicles which were “never the property of government” and were in fact owned by a trust which had a mandate to remain in existence long after the UNWTO event passed.
The judge ruled: “The Prosecutor General’s statement which is to the effect that the respondents violated government procedure when they failed to surrender the motor vehicles to the ministry of tourism and hospitality industry after the conference is difficult to comprehend, let alone accept…
“He does not cite the circular, regulation, rule or law which he is insisting the respondents should have complied with. He does not produce any evidence which supports the assertion that the respondents should have surrendered the motor vehicles to the government after the event.”
Mangota said it was evident from the trust deed that the government clearly wanted to separate donations to the trust from the tourism ministry. The trust – which had eight trustees – would receive and disburse funds in preparation for the conference, remain in place after the conference and retain the residue of whatever donations it collected for the conference to serve as a reservoir for the trust’s pursuance of future activities which are related to tourism and hospitality, the judge noted.
“It was, in fact, never the intention of government to dissolve the trust at the end of the conference. Nor was it its intention to have whatever donations it received in preparation of the conference to be surrendered to government after the event. It, in fact, appears to be the intention of the Prosecutor General to strip the trust of its motor vehicles,” the judge said.
Mangota said it was “difficult to condone, let alone accept” Hodzi’s “unfortunate” decision to label Mzembi and the others who are beneficiaries of the trust as “thieves” when “he could not prove their alleged unwholesome conduct.”
Mangota added: “The respondents, it is evident, did not steal anyone’s property. Their use of the vehicles after the conference is nowhere near the crime of theft or theft of trust property. They allowed the motor vehicles to remain registered in the name of the trust which owns them. Their conduct is not consistent with that of a thief. The elements of theft do not exist at all…
“On the objective analysis of the circumstances of this application, therefore, none of the respondents can be said to have committed any crime. The conduct of each of them is well above board. No element of any offence attaches to any of them. Their hands remain as white as snow. They are clean. The application is, in the result, dismissed with costs.”
Before pursuing forfeiture proceedings, the Prosecutor General dropped criminal charges against Mzembi, Sangarwe, Sussana Makome Kuhudzayi, Aaron Dzingira Mushoriwa and Grey Hama. In Justice Mangota’s view, “he had no option but to withdraw as he wisely did.