By Court Reporter
THE trial of Samuel Undenge, accused of favouring controversial businessman Wicknell Chivayo with a dubious tender deal, commenced Monday with the embattled ex-energy minister denying the allegations while heaping blame on a former Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) boss.
Undenge is under fire over his alleged role in the awarding of a $200 million tender for a solar plant in Gwanda to Chivayo.
It is alleged the showy businessman, through his company, Intratrek Zimbabwe, pocketed an initial $5.6 million from ZPC for work to commence but failed to deliver.
“The accused will deny ever directing ZPC managing director Noah Gwariro to pay Intratrek outside what was written in the contract. He is not even aware of how the company was awarded the contract,” said his lawyer Alec Muchadehama during trial commencement.
The key witness, Gwariro then took to the stand where he nailed Undenge.
“Dr Undenge ordered me to authorise ZPC to make an advance payment to Intratrek. The company (ZPC) had decided to expand power generation through solar in 2013,” he said.
“…I told the accused that Intratrek had no bank guarantee, so we had turned it down. He told me he was going to consult his principals in the cabinet. Taking into account that a cabinet is formed by ministers and the President, I took it that the superior he was referring to was the president (Robert Mugabe).
“The accused later came back told me to go ahead and pay Intratrek. I could not turn down his orders because I believed they were orders from the President.
“They (Undenge and Intratrek) were pushing for projects in an unusual way. Intratrek owner, Chivayo, was waving political powers.”
Gwariro is currently wheelchair bound and visibly sick.
The court would be adjourned after every 30 minutes to allow his physiotherapists to massage him.
He struggles to speak or even raise his hands and comes to court with two aides and it is often a struggle to get him out of the car and back inside.
During cross examination, Undenge, through his lawyer, tried to put Gwariro on the backfoot, accusing him of “buying” his place as state witness when he was in fact supposed to be the one in the dock.
“Confirm that you were suspended by the board before you got terminated?
“You personally had paid Intratrek. The board blamed you, and you alone for making the payment without authority. Things were really rotten at ZPC starting with you. You resigned because it was clear you were going to be fired. You corruptly got yourself in the witness stand yet you should be in the dock with the accused,” said Muchadehama.
But Gwariro told court that everyone in the board and ZPC was distancing themselves from the case.
“There was a number of people to be answerable after an internal audit was carried out. There was a serious conflict of interest in this case,” he said.
Gwariro told court that the board chairperson was once employed by Intratrek.
“The board made all sorts of allegations and took much efforts to wash their hands off this case despite the fact that we would report to them and the ministry,” he said.
Gwariro told court the initial estimate for pre-commencement work was $7 million but Chivayo was paid $5 million.
Prosecutors allege only $48,000 of that amount was used at the site.
Chivayo, who is being charged with money laundering, contravening the Exchange Control Act and fraud, then converted the money for personal use and did not carry out any meaningful work at the project site.
It is alleged that Chivayo transferred the funds to his other businesses which had nothing to do with the project he was contracted to carry out.
Undenge was convicted of a similar charge in July this year after he handpicked Fruitful Communications company, jointly owned by a broadcaster, Oscar Pambuka and former Zanu PF legislator, Psychology Maziwisa to do public relations work for ZPC.
This was even though the company has a fully-fledged PR department.
However, Harare magistrate, Hosea Mujaya suspended two years of his sentence conditionally.
He is currently out of custody after he successfully applied for bail pending appeal before the High court.
Trial continued on Tuesday.
Zivanai Macharaga of the President’s special anti-corruption unit prosecuted.
Barbara Chimboza is presiding over the case.