Zim court extends detention of MDC's Bennett

A Zimbabwe court on Wednesday ordered ministerial nominee Roy Bennett to be kept in custody until March 4, on the grounds there was “reasonable suspicion” against him in a terrorism case.

The ruling means Bennett will not be allowed to take part in a swearing-in ceremony for junior ministers in the unity government this week.

“The state has succeeded in establishing reasonable suspicion that the accused committed the offence,” magistrate Livingstone Chipadza told the court in the eastern town of Mutare.

“At this juncture, the state is not required to establish a prima facie case against the accused. It’s required to establish reasonable suspicion,” the judge said.

Bennett (52) is accused of illegal possession of arms for the purposes of committing banditry, insurgency and terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The court on Wednesday dropped a second charge of violating the Immigration Act.

Bennett is a leading figure in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and his arrest and detention has cast a shadow over the unity government, which began work on Monday.

He is scheduled to be sworn in as deputy agriculture minister later this week.

Bennett’s lawyer, Trust Maanda, said he would make a bail application to the Harare High Court.

“The magistrate remanded him in custody on the first count. We will apply for bail at the high court in Harare anytime this week,” Maanda said.

The MDC has said the charges against the former farmer are “trumped up” and have demanded his release.

The terror plot charge against Bennett relates to the 2006 discovery of weapons in the house of a currently imprisoned former policeman, Peter Michael Hischmann, who said they belonged to Bennett.

The immigration charge, which was dropped, stemmed from Bennett’s arrest last week at a Harare airport where he was accused of trying to leave Zimbabwe without reporting to an immigration officer.

“The evidence by the defence shows that the accused presented himself to immigration officers together with seven other passengers,” Chipadza said.

Foreign currency
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s new unity government has started paying civil servants in United States dollars to counter near worthless local salaries, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said on Wednesday.

“We will pay every civil servant in foreign currency,” Biti told a news conference in the capital, adding that the armed forces had been paid on Tuesday.

Biti, deputy leader of the MDC, said the move was an attempt to pay the country’s 130 000 civil servants a decent wage.

Soldiers were paid a $100 allowance—worth more than current salaries—this week and payments to workers in other public sectors in the crisis-hit country will follow.

“Today it’s the teachers and the rest tomorrow,” Biti said, with the new government having to “juggle” resources to make the payments.

Zimbabwe’s political and economic crises has reduced the Zimbabwe dollar, once on a par with the British pound, to almost nothing, forcing Zimbabweans to pay trillions of local dollars just for a loaf of bread.

The central bank earlier this month knocked 12 zeros off the local currency—reducing one trillion dollars to one dollar—in an effort to get the unit back on track to normality.

Since last year, civil servants such as teachers, nurses and doctors have downed tools demanding that they paid in hard currency.—AFP

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