Monday, 2 March 2020

SUPREME COURT JUDGE IN BIG TROUBLE


Supreme Court judge, Justice Francis Bere, is in trouble over allegations that he interfered with a pending civil court case involving the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) and his relatives.

President Mnangagwa has since set up a three-member tribunal to inquire into his fitness to continue holding the esteemed office.

The tribunal will be chaired by retired judge Justice Simbi Mubako. Justice Mubako will work with two lawyers — Advocate Takawira Nzombe and Mrs Rekayi Maphosa.

In a document seen by The Herald, Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda said the inquiry would start after the swearing in of members of the tribunal.

“Please be advised that His Excellency, the President has appointed a Tribunal to inquire into the question of removal from office of Honourable Justice Francis Bere,” said Dr Sibanda in the document.

“The inquiry is expected to commence soon after the swearing in of the members and is to be concluded within three months from date of commencement.” 

Justice Bere, according to information gathered by The Herald, reportedly telephoned Zinara lawyer Mr Itai Ndudzo of Mutamangira and Associates, asking him to consider settling a civil dispute pitting Zinara and Fremus Enterprises (owned by the judge’s relatives).

The complaint was first raised before Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza during a court hearing before Mr Ndudzo was asked to make the complaint in writing.

“The learned judge, indeed contacted me telephonically,” said Mr Ndudzo.

“The commercial dispute between my client (Zinara) and Fremus Enterprises Pvt Ltd was discussed in the course of the conversation.

“The learned judge’s relatives are co-directors of Fremus Enterprises Pvt Ltd. The learned judge inquired whether or not there would be possibility of payment being expedited to Fremus Pvt Ltd.

“I declined the request and the conversation ended abruptly on that note.” Justice Bere responded to the complaint denying the allegations.

In a response to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), he said he only contacted Mr Ndudzo in the context of their personal relationship dating back to the days when they were both members of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) Ethics Committee.

“In 2015, I was chairman of the ZIFA ethics committee and Mr Ndudzo was legal advisor to ZIFA,” he said. “We developed a personal relationship through ZIFA.

“I spoke to Mr Ndudzo in the context of the said personal relationship before litigation had commenced, and in circumstances wherein litigation was not apparent.

“This was prior to my transfer to Bulawayo High Court to head that court following the passing on of the late Mr Justice Mutema.”

Justice Bere said he visited his aunt, who, together with her husband, are co-directors of Fremus Enterprises.

“My aunt was critically ill,” he said. “The directors of Fremus wished to take my aunt to South Africa for immediate medical attention, but did not have the required resources.

“In talking to them, my sister’s husband disclosed that if only Mr Ndudzo had honoured his promise to release money owed to Fremus, they would not have been in that predicament.” 

Justice Bere said he was relieved that his relatives were talking about Mr Ndudzo whom he knew through interaction at ZIFA.

“I reacted by immediately calling Mr Ndudzo whose number I already had by reason of the personal relationship we had developed,” he said.

“I inquired of him, whether or not there was any possibility of him expediting the payment to Fremus given the dire situation at hand.”

Justice Bere described the complaint as a falsehood meant to taint his clean record.

“In this exciting phase that we are in as a country, and in view of the much spoken about confrontation against the vice of corruption, there will always be excitable individuals who would wish to create some relevance in this noble fight,” he said.

“They are the greatest threat to this noble endeavour and stand in the path of, and indeed in this way obstruct, the genuine fight against corruption. It is in this spirit that the false complaint against me must be looked at.” 

Mr Ndudzo, in a follow up letter, stuck to his story, saying he had no reason to frame Justice Bere.

“My client is a public institution to which the value of the matter would not in any way diminish its standing even in the face of an adverse outcome,” he said.

“There would under those circumstances, have been no reason or incentive for me to make unfounded allegations against the learned judge in the name of deriving an advantage.”

Mr Ndudzo denied having a personal relationship with Justice Bere, saying he was surprised to receive a call from him.

“I was not a legal advisor to ZIFA in the period in question (2015) and could not have developed a personal relationship with the learned judge based on this assertion,” he said.

“For the sake of completeness, I did not hitherto form a personal relationship with the learned judge even after I became legal advisor of ZIFA in 2016.
“It was against this backdrop that I was startled upon receiving the telephone call from the learned judge in 2017 as I had not had any prior communication with him.”

Meanwhile, Justice Bere has made headlines in the news over other allegations of conflict of interest in a ruling he made in the more than $2 million consultancy dispute between the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Meikles Limited and Widefree Investments.

Widefree is linked to industrialist Mr Joseph Kanyekanye, a long standing client of Bere Brothers, a law firm founded by the judge.

Chief Justice Luke Malaba recently ordered investigations into alleged violation of judicial ethical conduct by Justice Bere after Meikles executive chairman Mr John Moxon filed a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that Justice Bere was conflicted in giving a ruling against Meikles under Case Number SC 503 /18.

Meikles, which entered into a consultancy agreement with Widefree Investments trading as Core Solutions in December 2013, lost the case both at the High Court and Supreme Court.

The obligation of the agreement was that Core Solutions would assist Meikles in recovering funds owed by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Chief Justice Malaba acknowledged receipt of the complaint against Justice Bere, saying it raised issues relating to ethical conduct of the imputed judge and ordered investigations into his conduct.

“We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated September 20, 2018 addressed to Honourable Chief Justice, which has been referred to the Chief Justice for response,” read the letter dated September 28, 2018 and signed by Ms Anita Tshuma, the registrar of the Constitutional and Supreme Court.

“The Chief Justice has requested us to inform you that your complaint raises issues relating to the ethical conduct of the judicial officer concerned, which will need to be investigated by the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.”

In a letter written to Chief Justice Malaba in September 2018, Mr Moxon said he had information of Mr Kanyekanye’s links with Justice Bere. Herald



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