Former minister Prisca Mupfumira has asked Chief Magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi to recuse himself from her corruption trial, alleging bias.

Mupfumira’s defence team of Advocates Thembinkosi Magwaliba and Sylvester Hashiti say Mutevedzi dealt with the merits of the case at her initial remand after she was arrested in July last year.

“We are making this application for recusal of the trial magistrate on the basis that he is the same magistrate who heard and established that Mupfumira had committed offences which warranted her further detention. He is therefore biased on the subject matter and had already made his mind on the merits such that he cannot be fair and impartial in this trial,” said Hashiti.

Mupfumira is jointly charged with former Public Service Commission secretary Ngoni Masoka. They face charges of criminal abuse of office and concealing a transaction from a principal.

The former public service minister is accused of abusing her powers through buying personal vehicles using funds from NSSA; abusing public funds by buying air tickets for relatives and directors to her daughter’s wedding in South Africa and also money laundering.

The criminal abuse of office charges relate to allegations that she forced NSSA into risky investments leading to a prejudice of over US$94 million during the time she was minister between 2014 and 2017.

Mupfumira denies the allegations.

Prosecutor Tafara Chirambira opposed the application for the magistrate’s recusal, arguing that the trial has already started and two witnesses have testified.

On her initial appearance, the State filed a certificate from Prosecutor General Kumbirai Hodzi in terms of Section 32(3) (b) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act which states that if the Prosecutor General believes that a matter is complex and that there is difficulty in acquiring evidence relating to an offence or that there is likelihood that the accused may conceal or destroy evidence, and if a magistrate is satisfied will remand an accused in custody for 21 days.

Hashiti said: “In its ruling, the court said it was satisfied that Mupfumira committed the offences, and that amounted to a presumption of bias which is enough ground for an application for recusal because before a matter is tried, there is presumption of innocence. A judicial officer cannot conclude the matter before trial.”

Mutevedzi will rule on the application on November 9. -Zimlive