It is now gloves off for fugitive former Zanu PF Minister Walter Mzembi after Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Government asked South Africa to extradite him amid allegations that the ex-ruling party heavyweight skipped bail over a criminal abuse of office case involving theft of trust funds amounting to US$847 000.
Mzembi was linked to the mutilated G40 cabal in Zanu PF which was viciously opposed to the ascension of then Vice President Mnangagwa during the reign of dethroned late long-ruling Zimbabwe despot, Robert Mugabe.
The former Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister left the country in 2018 and is alleged of having committed the offence when the troubled southern African country co-hosted with Zambia, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Conference in August 2013.
Through the National Prosecuting Authority, Zimbabwe is now seeking the assistance of the South African authorities to bring Mzembi to a Zimbabwean court to answer allegations of stealing vehicles worth US$130 000, which had been donated for the UNTWO General Assembly.
On the other hand, Mzembi also stands accused of abusing his office by donating four public viewing screens worth US$200 000 to Zion Christian Church, United Family International Church and Prophetic Healing Deliverance Ministries in violation of the Public Finance Management Act.
According to a report in the state media, Mzembi showed favour to the three religious denominations by donating the screens which were the property of the Ministry of Tourism, without the concurrence of the Treasury.
The former minister is also involved in another criminal case, alongside two others- Susanna Makombe Kuhudzayi and Aaron Mushoriwa Dzingira- in which they reportedly converted US$815 00 to their own use, from donations amounting to US$815 000 for UNTWO from Mbada Diamonds on behalf of the Government.
Acting Deputy Prosecutor-General, Nelson Mutsonziwa said in a letter to the South African Government that Mzembi’s requested extradition was not, in any way politically-linked, as Harare wanted him in respect of the laid charges, only.
“The accused will not be prosecuted for any offence other than theft, criminal abuse of duty as a public officer as defined in Section 174(1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23], based only upon the facts stated in this request,” wrote Mutsonziwa.
“This request is not being pursued for political reasons or any ulterior purpose. Zimbabwe guarantees that Walter Mzembi will receive a fair trial in terms of the laws of Zimbabwe. The Republic of Zimbabwe also undertakes to render assistance to the Republic of South Africa in any criminal matter,” he partly wrote.
It is further stated that the case, involving Mzembi and his co-accused who are in the country and already served with warrants of arrests, has been stalled by the absence of the former cabinet minister.
There is no formal extradition agreement between South Africa and Zimbabwe, but the NPA premised its request on the Extradition (Designated Countries) Order of 1990 which designated the neighbouring country as one of the nations to which the Government can seek legal mutual assistance in extradition cases.
Meanwhile, the move by Harare has been widely criticized, with prominent journalist Lance Guma dismissing the request for Mzembi’s extradition as laughable.
It is also not clear if President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Government will give nod to Zimbabwe’s request, particularly in light of an outcry by South African opposition figures such as Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema over Harare’s clampdown and alleged abductions of opposition figures and activists.
Additional Reporting: Zwnews