Detective Inspector Leonard Gwandu- officer-in-charge for CID Gweru- who was initially slapped with a three-year prison sentence for criminal abuse of office, will now serve an effective 2-year imprisonment after one year was suspended on condition of good behaviour.
Gwandu was convicted of the charges he was facing after the state proved that he released a vehicle stolen from South Africa that was being held by the police as an exhibit.
The vehicle, a Toyota Hilux double cab with a market value of US$27 000, was released to controversial Kwekwe businessman Shepherd Tundiya.
The court also heard that Gwandu took advantage of the absence of his bosses, Chief Superintendent Wellington Ngena and Superintendent Magdalene Chakanyuka whose responsibilities entailed keeping exhibits.
The duo was said to be on leave during the time the now incarcerated Gwandu released the vehicle, with Toyota South Africa and it’s clients making a follow-up to recover the ‘stolen’ car.
This, Gwandu did, despite the fact that it had been communicated to him that there were 10 such stolen South African registered vehicles in the country. Of the ten vehicles, two were in the Midlands capital, including the one Gwandu released to Tundiya.
Despite the fact that he pleaded not guilty, Gwandu was convicted by Gweru regional magistrate Phathekile Msipha due to the availability of overwhelming evidence incriminating the CID boss.
Msipha argued that it was the duty of the courts to effect the release of the vehicle, and not the police. She also ruled that Gwandu took advantage of the absence of his superiors who were on leave to criminally release the stolen vehicle to the controversy-ridden Tundiya.
“The State noted that the vehicle was subject to investigations from Toyota South Africa and Gwandu had such a database of vehicles under investigation in his office,” Msipha said.
“How does the accused release the vehicle back to a man knowing that it was suspected to be stolen? It baffles one’s mind that this was committed by a senior police officer and it amounted to criminal abuse of duty. The accused knew that it was unlawful for him to give Mr Tundiya the vehicle even after his acquittal. By his actions, he showed favour to Mr Tundiya by releasing the vehicle to him. There is a thin line between incompetence and corruption and he is found guilty as charged,” said Msipha.
In giving Gwandu a custodial sentence, the magistrate argued that payment of a fine or doing community service was bound to trivialise the criminal offence Gwandu committed.
Msipha said in the event that they allowed Gwandu to pay a fine or do community service, ‘the society will frown at this sentence and doubt our justice system’.
“We need to protect persons and their property. You took advantage of the fact that your officer in charge and the officer in charge of exhibits were on leave. This was a well-planned act and there is a need for the court to pass a deterrent sentence so that society has confidence in our courts. You are sentenced to three years of which one is suspended on condition of good behaviour,” said Msipha in her ruling.
Gwandu justified his move, saying he did not favour anyone and argued that the matter was an administrative issue.
But, in his submissions, state witness , Detective Sergeant Mlabeni Sibanda said the vehicle was supposed to be released to Toyota South Africa.
“We had made an appointment with Toyota South Africa together with its customers whose vehicles were stolen from them so that they come and identify the vehicles for possible repatriation to South Africa.The vehicle in question was supposed to be released to Toyota South Africa instead of Tundiya,” Detective Sergeant Sibanda told the court.
After he was arrested on October 16 in connection with the motor vehicle, Tundiya was acquitted on December 13 at the Gweru Magistrates Court.
He, instead claimed that he did not know that the car had been stolen from South Africa, as he claimed to have procured the vehicle from a Harare-based car dealer identified as Patrick Mutodi.
Yet state papers indicate that the motor vehicle in question was stolen in South Africa from a one Thomas Blom of CMH Toyota and was being investigated by Alberton Police Station in the neighboring southern African nation.
Without following due procedure, Gwandu released the vehicle to Tundiya on the same day he was also acquitted.
Additional Reporting: Zwnews