Mupfumira graft trial stayed

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By Mary Taruvinga

THE High Court has briefly stayed the trial of former Tourism minister, Prisca Mupfumira who is facing criminal abuse of office charges.

This follows a successful application she filed last Friday.

Mupfumira had excepted to the charges she is facing when her trial was supposed to start last Thursday with no luck after acting chief magistrate, Munamato Mutevedzi trashed her application and further ordered that the trial should start.

Through her lawyers, Mupfumira had also asked for a postponement arguing that she had made an urgent application for stay of proceedings before the High Court but it was again turned down prompting her to seek a Constitutional Court referral after Mutevedzi barred trial postponement awaiting review of his ruling.

In her application, Mupfumira argued that she needed a review on the grounds that the magistrate’s ruling was grossly irregular and unprocedural.

Mupfumira also argued that Mutevedzi did not have all the documents which constituted the whole charge, therefore he could not make a valid decision based on documents which were not before him.

“First respondent made the ruling without regard and without further reference to particulars which had been supplied by the prosecution but were not placed on the court’s record.

“Because the magistrate did not have regards to these documents, his ruling omitted to address fundamental contradictions which exist in the charge,” reads her founding affidavit.

High Court judge, Justice Pisirai Kwenda upheld her arguments before he stayed the proceedings at the lower court.

Mupfumira was arrested in July 2019, on charges of prejudicing the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) of US$95 million, but prosecutors reportedly failed to build a case on the initial charges, prompting them to level a new set of charges in December 2019.

Last week, she argued that it had become inconceivable that a fair trial could eventuate from the current proceedings after two days of drama at the Harare Magistrates’ Court.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the special anti-corruption unit frantically sought to get the trial started.

On Wednesday, Prosecutor General Kumbirai Hodzi and Head of the Special Anti-Corruption Unit Thabani Mpofu both personally appeared in court.

Mupfumira’s lawyer, Advocate Thembinkosi Magwaliba, placed it on record during proceedings that the State’s use of five prosecutors was peculiar.

Mupfumira is jointly charged with ex-permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Service and Social Welfare Ngoni Masoka who also excepted to the charge with no success.

After the exception bid flopped, the two applied for a postponement which was again dismissed.

The state then put the charge to Mupfumira before Mutevedzi demanded that she pleads late on Wednesday.

The parties agreed to adjourn to Thursday morning where Advocate Hashiti, representing Mupfumira, told Mutevedzi that they had since approached the High Court with an urgent chamber application seeking stay of proceedings.

He argued that once the High Court is seized with the matter, a lower court could not act in a manner that negated the proceedings in the High Court and treat them as a non-event.

Hashiti told the court that the allegations in the review and the urgent application, which cited Mutevedzi as a respondent, were of a serious nature and go to the root of the right to a fair trial and protection and benefit of the law.

Despite being shown a notice of set down of the matter in the High Court, Mutevedzi ordered that the trial proceeds, prompting Advocate Magwaliba to seek referral of several arising issues to the Constitutional Court.