State seeks extradition for fugitive ex-Minister

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By Mary Taruvinga

COURT prosecutors are involved frantic attempts to bring back fugitive former cabinet minister, Walter Mzembi who has abandoned his fraud trial purportedly to seek medical treatment in South Africa.

The former Tourism Minister faces fraud and criminal abuse of office charges after he allegedly abused funds meant for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference that was hosted by Zimbabwe when he was still in charge of the portfolio.

His continued absence has left prosecutors at a loss on how they could handle trial following growing demands to be relieved of their charges by the ex-minister’s co-accused if trial was at all dependent on Mzembi’s availability.

The former legislator and businessman is jointly charged with his former ministry subordinates, Margaret Sangarwe and Aaron Mushoriwa but is individually charged for parcelling out some donated television sets to three prominent local churches unlawfully.

Mzembi left the country indicating that he was going for treatment in South Africa but never returned.

His lawyer, Job Sikhala told Harare Regional magistrate Hosea Mujaya Wednesday that his client was battling colon cancer and too ill to stand trial.

However, there are claims he could be faking ailment to evade the law and this has prompted the State to consider seeking his extradition.

Prosecutor Brian Vito said their first attempt to bring back Mzembi has flopped.

“Previously, we tried to bring him through state agents in Zimbabwe and South Africa but that has not borne any fruit,” he said.

“We have sought to formalise the extradition and as I speak, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) is making a request through Interpol to place the accused person on the red alert,” he said.

“This means South African authorities will be on the lookout for him.”

Vito said there is need to ascertain if the once influential ex-government official was indeed holed up in the neighbouring country, hence putting him on red alert.

“His counsel has not been helpful, hence we approached Interpol to ascertain his whereabouts as we cannot rely on social media.

“Whatever arrangement we have been making have now been formalised through Interpol. We had not taken this stance because we believed Mzembi will return to Zimbabwe upon completion of treatment.”

Vito said it did not appear the ex-minister was sick at all.

However, lawyers representing Mzembi’s co-accused said the letter tendered by Vito does not constitute an extradition in terms of the Extradition Act and is not supported by relevant documents.

They said Interpol does not play any role in the extradition of an accused person.

“The state must concede and remove from remand. Another option is to separate these cases, something which the state has refused to do,” said one of the lawyers Farai Mushoriwa.

“The rights of the accused persons are being violated and we seek the court’s protection,” he added.

In response, Vito maintained that there are many ways of extradition an accused person and using Extradition Act is one of them.

The matter was stood down to allow Vito to make full arguments on ways of extraditing accused persons.