Deep-rooted factional wars within the Anglican Diocese of Manicaland played out at the Mutare Magistrates’ Courts on Wednesday after church members who attended initial remand proceedings for Bishop Eric Ruwona clashed at the criminal courts.
Ruwona was on Tuesday arrested by officers from the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission on fraud charges involving US$700 000 he allegedly siphoned from church coffers in concert with three accomplices who are still at large.
He spent the night in police holding cells at Mutare Central Police Station and was arraigned before senior magistrate Mr Tendai Mahwe on fraud charges the following morning.
Before the court sat, some church members sang songs in support of the top cleric’s arrest.
They took their celebratory mood into the courtroom.
The celebrations ended after the court granted the bishop $15 000 bail as the ruling drew wild cheers from the other group that quickly broke into song and dance celebrating the bishop’s freedom.
A war of words erupted between church members of the two factions outside the courtroom and the situation nearly degenerated into violence.
They dressed down each other in the full glare of members of the public using unprintable words.
Ruwona, who is denying the charges, is accused of defrauding the Anglican Church of US$700 000.
He was granted $15 000 bail and ordered to report once every Friday at Mutare Central Police Station.
Mr Mahwe also ordered him not to interfere with State witnesses as well as to continue residing at No. 1 Oak Road, Murambi.
Mr Tirivanhu Mutyasira prosecuted while the bishop was initially represented by Messrs Ashel Mutungura and Passmore Nyakureba.
However, Mr Mutungura later recused himself from the bar after the State, through the investigating officer, Mr Eric Chacha, from the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, complained that he was conflicted on the grounds that he signed some important documents that resulted in the fraudulent transactions at the church.
Allegations were that the bishop and his three accomplices, hatched a plan to defraud the diocese.
“To achieve their plans and on 26 February 2016, the accused person and his accomplices, fraudulently applied for a loan of US$100 000 from Agribank Mutare branch in the name of the Anglican Diocese of Mutare Church Agribank account misrepresenting that they would construct St Catherine’s Girls High School in Rusape and to purchase a vehicle for the bishop.
“The accused person and his accomplices committed to Agribank Mutare to take the loan under a mortgage bond of a certain piece of land situated in Mutare District being stand number 78 Mutare Township as collateral security without the knowledge of the standing committee and the church congregants,” said Mr Mutyasira.
He said as a result of the misrepresentation the loan was approved and the accused person took the money.
“On February 25, 2016 the accused person and his accomplices fraudulently applied for another loan of $350 000 from the same bank using the same collateral security without the knowledge of the church’s standing committee purporting that they wanted to construct the same school as well as purchase a vehicle for the bishop.
“The loan was approved and the accused person took the money.”
The court heard that the suspect and his accomplices also took a bank overdraft of US$250 000 from the church’s Agribank account without the knowledge of the standing committee.
“The accused had no lawful right whatsoever to defraud the church of its money in the manner he did. His conduct caused an actual prejudice of US$700 000 and nothing was recovered,” said Mr Mutyasira.
The case goes for trial on January 29.