MDC's Bennett formally charged over alleged terror plot

A Zimbabwe politician earmarked to join the new unity government appeared in court on Tuesday to face charges over an alleged terror plot, a source in the attorney general’s office said.

Roy Bennett, the Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) treasurer and its pick to become deputy agriculture minister, was formally charged with illegal possession of arms for purposes of committing banditry, insurgency and terrorism, and with violating the immigration Act by magistrates in Mutare.

The first charge is related to the 2006 discovery of weapons in the house of a currently imprisoned former white policeman, Peter Michael Hischmann, who said they belonged to Bennett.

The second charge stems from Bennett’s arrest last week at a Harare airport where he was accused of having tried to leave Zimbabwe without presenting himself to an immigration officer.

Bennett, who was arrested on Friday after about three years in exile in South Africa, had been scheduled to appear in court on Monday but his case was adjourned and his detention extended. He was arrested shortly before his MDC colleagues were sworn in to serve in the new Cabinet.

His detention has cast a long shadow on the formation of Zimbabwe’s new unity government, which held its first cabinet meeting on Tuesday, with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai now the country’s prime minister.

MDC secretary general and newly appointed finance minister Tendai Biti hinted on Monday that the party would take unspecified “action” if Bennett was not released on Tuesday.

“The prime minister [Morgan Tsvangirai] is in touch with Mugabe. We hope that the situation will be resolved today,” Biti told South African radio on Monday.

A white farmer from the lush Chimanimani region near the border with Mozambique, Bennett’s farm was expropriated under Robert Mugabe’s land reforms in 2003.

In 2004, he received an eight-month jail sentence for assault after he punched the justice minister during a heated debate in Parliament on the land programme.

He only returned to Zimbabwe last month after three years of self-imposed exile in South Africa, where he had fled to escape charges of having plotted to kill Mugabe.

Police on Sunday dropped treason charges against Bennett, accusing him instead of attempt to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage.—Sapa-AFP

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