Monday, 23 May 2022

THREE DETECTIVES WHO BUST SMUGGLING RING ACQUITTED

THREE junior police officers busted a smuggling ring in Mutare and impounded a truck laden with 142 bales of second-hand clothes, but later found themselves in the dock on wild allegations that they extorted US$2 000 from the smuggling cartel.

So powerful was the cartel that the police bosses in Manicaland, without even establishing the nexus between the three detectives and the offence, decided to treat the cartel as saints and went after their own.

Eventually they went to trial, and were acquitted at the end of the State’s case, without even having to defend themselves, so weak and contradictory was the evidence against them.

The State could not establish there was a possibility of extortion, let alone that there was a probability they had to rebut.

The truck in question belonged to Edward Muhamba, who is now under investigation by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission for money laundering, illegal diamond deals and smuggling of second-hand clothes from Mozambique.

ZACC, through the National Prosecuting Authority’s asset forfeiture unit, obtained an order freezing the assets acquired by Muhamba pending a forfeiture application.

Muhamba has to submit to ZACC a detailed explanation on how he acquired wealth in excess of US$500 000 in a short space of time.

Detective Assistant Inspector Reason Aroveshita, Detective Sergeant Kurai Mushwete and Detective Sergeant Collen Chidhakwa endured two-years of investigations and prosecution until last month when they were cleared of any wrongdoing.

They were suspended from work and spent 58 days in remand prison.

The trio was freed after a High Court bail appeal. One of them, Mushwete reportedly resigned out of frustration.

At the trial, successive witnesses exonerated the trio to an extent of telling the court that they saw them for the first time while they were now in the dock.

“I met them for the first time at court and it is said that they arrested me,” said the first State witness Mr Tapiwa Munodawafa.

Mr Munodawafa is employed by Muhamba as a truck driver. Asked why he had clashed with the police, Munodawafa said: “I was ferrying bales of second-hand clothes to Harare and I saw a Mazda BT50 vehicle. I overtook the Mazda BT50 and sped off. The officers opened fire and deflated my tyres.

“I had to stop. I panicked and ran away, leaving the lorry and the bales,” he said.

Asked who the owners of the bales were, Munodawafa said he had been hired by a man only identified as “Nyasha” but investigations did not go beyond that.

When Munodawafa escaped, Muhamba who had been called by his driver, arrived at the scene and asked why his vehicle had been impounded.

How Muhamba convinced the police bosses that the three had demanded a bribe from him, remains a mystery considering that Muhamba later told the court that the three never talked to him about this or any other bribe.

Instead, Muhamba told the court that the person who had hired his truck to ferry the smuggled second hand clothes to Harare was the one who referred him to another faceless character, whose name could not even be stated in court.

That faceless character, according to Muhamba, asked for US$2 000 to give some police officers so that they release the bales and the truck.

“He (Nyasha) told me the vehicle had been impounded and it had second-hand clothes. He gave me the contacts for a certain person who I was to give US$2 000, to be forwarded to the police officers.

“I met him that same night and gave him US$2 000. The person said he was going to take the money to the police.”

Asked on whether he met and discussed the issue with the three detectives, Muhamba said he only dealt with that unidentified character.

“It was Nyasha who told me they wanted US$2 000. I was directed by Nyasha to the person that I later gave the money.

“I then talked to the officers about the money when my truck was handed over to ZIMRA, but they denied ever taking the money.

“They said they were not aware of that money,” said Muhamba.

Under cross examination, Muhamba confirmed the vehicle that ferried the smuggled clothes belonged to him.

However, it is not part of the list of vehicles frozen by the High Court recently.

He further told the court that he was not sure if the money reached the trio.

“According to what is coming out, the suspects did nothing wrong. But when I gave the money to that other person, I thought I was dealing with the three,” said Muhamba.

In 2020, Muhamba nailed the three police officers through a sworn affidavit supplied to the investigators of the case.

However, the story completely changed when in court.

The 2020 affidavit tells a completely different story indicated that he personally met the detectives and gave them the money.

“I asked them to leave the UD truck with the bales at my garage and that I would give them US$2 000 but they refused.

“They only said that they could assist by leaving some of the bales with me and then take the vehicle and other bales to the police station.

“Aroveshita was the one speaking and he went on to say he would make sure the truck would not be handed over to Zimra.

“We then agreed that some of the bales were to be offloaded at my garage and that I would give them US$2 000.

“The bales were offloaded from the UD truck at the garage by Ngondonga and Liberty Makoni. “Seventy-nine bales were offloaded at my garage and left.”

Muhamba stated in the same affidavit that he handed the money to Aroveshita in the presence of the other two detectives. In other cases, such hostile witnesses who change stories, departing from sworn affidavits may be impeached, but in this particular case, nothing happened.

 

It is also not clear if the witnesses had been granted immunity to prosecution by the Prosecutor-General.

 

Harare magistrate Mrs Barbra Mateko acquitted the three because there was no evidence linking them to the offence.

Based on the testimonies of the State witnesses, the court found no reason why the three were brought to court.

“The owner (of the UD truck) does not know whether the money reached the accused persons or not. He cannot recall who he gave the money to. He is however very sure that he did not give the money to any of the accused persons.

“The person who released the money indicated that none of the accused persons demanded money from him and he did not give it to them.

“As per State’s concession, there is no evidence to link the accused on the balance of probabilities and the accused persons are thereby discharged at the close of the State’s case,” ruled Mrs Mateko.

At the end of the day, Muhamba was never arrested in relation to the matter and the police officers were acquitted. His driver is also a free man and he attended court to testify against the trio. Herald

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