Zim court orders release of British tycoon

A Zimbabwe court on Tuesday ordered the release of a controversial British property tycoon who was arrested last week for breaching foreign-exchange laws and possessing pornography, his lawyer said.

“The Judge [Samuel Kudya] has ordered that he be released with immediate effect,” Nicholas van Hoogstraten’s lawyer, George Chikumbirike, told journalists outside the Harare High Court.

The lawyer said the police will summon his client back to court if they still want to press on with the charges.

Van Hoogstraten was arrested last Thursday at his Harare home where police say they found $37 586, R92 880, £190 and 180 Botswana pula, totalling the equivalent of about $51 000, as well as Z$20-billion.

National police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena alleged that Van Hoogstraten—who owns more than 200 properties in Zimbabwe—had demanded six months’ rent in foreign currency from his tenants.

Police also claimed to have found pictures of the 63-year-old naked with his 22-year-old Zimbabwean girlfriend, although Chikumbirike said the pornography charge was not raised in court.

There was no immediate comment from Van Hoogstraten himself after the hearing, which was held behind closed doors, although he had dismissed the case against him on Monday as “a minor irritation”.

Van Hoogstraten has a reputation in his native Britain as a ruthless property developer who bought up thousands of slum properties and reportedly described his tenants as “filth”.

The multimillionaire was convicted in 2002 of manslaughter in the death of an associate, Mohammed Raja, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, in a verdict that was overturned the following year on appeal.

In 2005, Raja’s family was awarded £6-million in a civil case after the high court ruled that, on the balance of probability, Van Hoogstraten had been involved in the killing by hiring two thugs.

Van Hoogstraten has spoken warmly of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, describing him as “100% decent and incorruptible”.—Sapa-AFP