HARARE – Former president Robert Mugabe will be called in to testify in a high-profile case in which former Tourism minister Walter Mzembi is facing corruption charges, the Daily News can report.
Mzembi’s legal team is making a court application to subpoena the 93-year-old former head of State to give evidence along with his former deputy, Joice Mujuru, and ex-Finance minister, Tendai Biti after the Office of the President and Cabinet refused to release documents they wanted to use in their defence.
Mzembi was arrested last Friday by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission along with former Energy and Power Development minister Samuel Undenge on charges of criminal abuse of office.
They are both out on bail.
Charges against Mzembi are that sometime in 2010, the ministry of Tourism and Hospitality initiated a motion to acquire LED Public Viewing Area televisions for the public countrywide in its bid to introduce Fan Parks for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The State alleges that in its bid to import the television screens, Mzembi’s ministry applied and obtained funds from Treasury, under Biti at the time, for the purchase of 40 screens amounting to $2 million.
The court heard on Saturday that the money was deposited into Shanghai Linso Digital Technology Company’s account in China, as payment for the equipment.
Forty television screens were duly delivered and received by the ministry of Tourism and entered into its asset register.
According to the charge sheet, Mzembi then criminally abused his office by intentionally and unlawfully disposing State assets namely 16 PVA television screens by means of donating, loaning or hiring them to various institutions and church organisations without approval from the ministry of Finance.
The TV sets were donated to Emmanuel Makandiwa’s United Family International Church and Walter Magaya’s Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries.
“The PVA screens are still being possessed by the various institutions and church organisations and are valued at $800 000. Government assets are not loaned to private parties. They are not donated, hired or transferred to other entities without authority from Treasury,” reads part of Mzembi’s charge sheet.
In his defence, Mzembi who was ordered by Harare magistrate Elisha Singano to pay $400 bail, surrender his passport to the clerk of court, report every Friday at Borrowdale Police Station, not to interfere with witnesses and to reside at his given address, is arguing that his conduct was above board, since his actions were in compliance with a Cabinet resolution.
Through his lawyer, Job Sikhala of Koto and Company Legal Practitioners, Mzembi who will make his second court appearance on January 22 intends to subpoena Mugabe, Mujuru and Biti to prove to the courts that his hands are clean.
Sikhala told the Daily News on Monday that they have been forced to call in Mugabe as a witness after the State refused to release Cabinet minutes to that effect.
“They are refusing to declassify cabinet minutes that gave him that directive to implement religious tourism at the material time,” said Sikhala.
“We are not going to stop until we get the truth so we are going to subpoena the former chairperson of cabinet at the material time who is former president Robert Mugabe to come and appear in court to tell us about the Cabinet resolutions regarding the policy of promoting religious tourism,” he added.
Online dictionary, Wikipedia defines a subpoena or witness summons as a writ issued by a government agency, most often a court, to compel testimony by a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for failure.
There are two common types of subpoena namely subpoena ad testificandum and subpoena duces tecum.
The former refers to an order given to a person to testify before the ordering authority or face punishment. The subpoena can also request the testimony to be given by phone or in person.
The latter orders a person or organisation to bring physical evidence before the ordering authority or face punishment. This is often used for requests to mail copies of documents to the requesting party or directly to court.
Mugabe was forced to resign as president in November last year following a military intervention code-named Operation Restore Legacy that targeted “criminals” around the former head of State.
At the material time, Mugabe chaired Cabinet meetings and had oversight over ministerial committees.
Mujuru is being subpoenaed in her previous capacity as chair of the inter-ministerial taskforce set up by Mugabe to drive the policy of religious tourism.
Biti is seen helping Mzembi in his defence since he was in charge of the finance portfolio.
Mugabe, Mujuru, Mzembi and Biti were part of a cabinet that served during the era of the inclusive government between 2009 and 2013.
Following the liquidation of the coalition government, Biti bowed out of government after his party, the MDC, was trounced in elections by Zanu PF.
Mujuru was forced out of Zanu PF and government in 2014 owing to ugly succession fights that were triggered by Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
Interestingly, Grace was also fired from Zanu PF in November last year, along with Mzembi, although he is still to be recalled from the National Assembly.
On Monday, Sikhala insisted that his client was clean, arguing that he was being persecuted on political grounds.
“We are also going to make an application in court to also make sure Mujuru is summoned to give evidence to say what the cabinet resolution on that was.
“We are also going to make an application to subpoena the former minister…. Biti to come and testify on what the resolution said about what should have happened to the TV sets.
“So it is an obligation of every Zimbabwe on the corner of justice regardless of our political differences.
“This is matter of political persecution and as a victim of political persecution myself I know how painful it is. Besides, Mzembi is my uncle and I also have a moral obligation to help him when he is in need,” he said.