/ 26 March 2008

MDC: Zim cops charge Jo’burg-based pilot with fraud

Zimbabwe police have pressed fraud charges related to a hotel booking against a Johannesburg-based pilot arrested while flying Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai to election rallies, the party said on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe’s police were not able to confirm his arrest or provide reasons, but MDC treasurer general Roy Bennett said that according to the party’s lawyers in Harare, when he arrived at the hotel, he occupied a room that somebody else had booked for him and so the police charged him with fraud.

”They charged him under ridiculous charges and are holding him, because somebody else booked him into the hotel under another name because he was not there,” said Bennett.

Brent Smyth was detained on Tuesday with MDC official Jameson Timba, another pilot helping him refuel and an airport employee. They were waiting to fly Tsvangirai to rallies in remote areas to lobby voters for his presidential bid ahead of Saturday’s election.

Smyth had had a run-in with authorities on Saturday. They said his flight plan had not been filed on time, cancelling Tsvangirai’s rally appearances in key rural areas when his helicopter was grounded, said Bennett.

Timba, the other pilot and the airport employee were released later on Tuesday.

South African embassy officials were granted consular access on Wednesday to Smyth and would attempt to establish the circumstances of his detention.

”We have, through our embassy in Harare, requested consular access to the pilot, which has now been granted by Zimbabwean authorities,” spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said.

Mamoepa said they were in contact with Smyth’s employer — ATS Aviation Services — and would offer full consular assistance to Smyth.

Smyth’s fiancée Drieksie Janse van Rensburg, said his clearance permit to be in the country expired at midnight on Tuesday while he was in custody. — Sapa