Mzembi mounts defence in graft trial

HARARE - Former Cabinet minister Walter Mzembi has said the government cannot charge him with corruption over alleged loses incurred during the 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly because the property belonged to the international body.

Mzembi, 54, is jointly charged with Tourism and Hospitality ministry consultant Aaron Dzingira Mushoriwa, 62, and ex-permanent secretary Margret Sangarwe, 59. The State alleges the group misappropriated over $1, 6 million meant for the UNWTO event held in Victoria Falls.

Mzembi appeared before Harare magistrate Rumbidzayi Mugwagwa and made his application challenging placement on remand for theft of trust property charges.

Mzembi’s lawyer Job Sikhala said the charges were misplaced because the Zimbabwean government sought to appropriate assets that had been raised for UNWTO.

He said UNWTO was an agency of the United Nations charter governed in terms of international law.

“Any donations raised are in terms of international law and cannot be appropriated by the State they belong to the UN agency. It is misdirection by the State in trying to draw the applicant into charges motivated by political conflict,” Sikhala argued.

“These assets are UNWTO as clearly outlined in the provisions of the operations of that organisation. It therefore means Tourism ministry cannot be the complainant the only appropriate complainant would be UNWTO.”

Sikhala further argued that Mzembi was not the director or signatory of Conventions Africa which was contracted to source funding for the event.

He said Mbada Diamonds, which pumped in $150 000 into the event, contributed to the event as a global partner and knew they could not directly sponsor the event without concurrence of the UN agency.

“…further to that when the applicant moved from Tourism ministry to Foreign Affairs he left the alleged stolen vehicle there and it was registered in UNWTO Corporate Resources Mobilisation Trust that was put in place to assist government to  successfully host the event.

“It would be gross injustice to keep applicant on remand and he has nothing to answer as the issues raised can only be understood by an officer of the court not Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption officers who just arrest after a telephone call and have no appreciation of the law,” Sikhala said.

Prosecutor Michael Reza said Sikhala had applied international law misguidedly.

“There is a danger that the court may be misled especially on international law because before that law can apply in any country, it has to be agreed and signed for, must ratify the treaty and incorporate tenets of international law into domestic law,” Reza said.

“When the accused person committed this offence, he knew the property did not belong to UNWTO but government of Zimbabwe. His accomplices fraudulently opened a bank account that was used and registered assets into a non-existent trust at Mzembi’s instructions,” Reza said.

Mugwagwa will hand ruling on February 19.

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