In a worrying development which could likely be used as a classic validation of alleged state excesses and corruption on the part of the political elite in Zimbabwe by critics, a cabinet minister has reportedly ordered power utility ZESA to withdraw criminal charges leveled against burly Harare businessman Wicknell Chivayo’s Intratek (Pvt) Limited, a company accused of embezzling over US$5 million in a stalled 100-meggawat solar power plant project in Gwanda, Matabeleland South province.
Fortune Chasi, who is Energy and Power Development minister in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Government is said to have written to ZESA Chairman Sydney Gata on May 26 ordering the termination of criminal proceedings against Intratek.
In classified communications seen by the online Zimlive, Minister Chasi told Gata that since 2015 when ZESA inked an agreement with Intratek to setup the Gwanda solar plant power plant with the aim of easing Zimbabwe’s power deficit, ‘nothing has been achieved except endless and pointless litigation’.
Chasi also told the ZESA boss that Harare ‘cannot afford the luxury of continued litigation’ and advised Gata to drop Intratek’s fraud charges arising from an alleged embezzlement of a US$5.6 million advance payment for feasibility studies to be carried at the site of the solar power plant in Gwanda, southern Zimbabwe.
The latest developments come hardly 48 hours after a three-member panel of Supreme Court judges Monday ruled in favour of the Prosecutor General’s appeal challenging a 2018 High Court ruling which cleared the Chivayo-run company of any fraudulent undertakings while equating the wrangle to a contractual, and not necessarily a criminal dispute.
The three SC judges who include Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza, Justices Rita Makarau and Susan Mavangira this week unanimously allowed the Prosecutor General’s appeal and ruled that the High Court erred in interfering with the unterminated criminal proceedings before the trial magistrate, Lazini Ncube.
Following the latest June 8 Supreme Court verdict, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) can now proceed with the Intratek trial but, in the event that ZESA complies with Chasi’s demands and formally drops the criminal charges, as is highly likely, that would severely weaken the prosecution’s case.
Quite suspiciously, Chivayo recently appointed Mnangagwa’s longtime lawyer and confidanté in the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), Edwin Manikai as Intratek’s chief legal advisor.
He also appointed Wilson Manase as executive chairman of Intratek, a move seen as a broad ploy to secure political backing and hold on to the megabucks solar power plant tender.
And writing to Gata, the Energy minister made mention of the duo- a pointer towards a political hand in the whole matter.
“The government took note of the involvement of high-ranking professionals who now constitute the restructured Intratek board,” he wrote.
“Of note, the Presidential Advisory Council chairman Edwin Manikai is leading the legal conscription of the proposed financial and technical variation of the project through Dube, Manikai and Hwacha Legal Practitioners… The key role of that law firm and Mr Manikai in particular in the new arrangement speaks volumes on the integrity, professionalism and experience placed into the project, with the government concurring that all previous loopholes would subsequently be forestalled and plugged,” said Chasi.
“It is not known when this appeal (at the Supreme Court) will be determined whilst on the other hand it is self-evident that the country is reeling under a serious power crisis that has already wreaked havoc on the economy and the generality of the populace.”
Additional Reporting: Zwnews