Former Energy and Power Development minister Samuel Undenge was yesterday sentenced to four years in prison after he was found guilty of criminal abuse of office.
His sentencing marked the first high-profile conviction since the coming in of the so-called new dispensation under President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Undenge, who is among an illustrious list of former Cabinet ministers who were arrested in the aftermath of the removal of former president Robert Mugabe in November last year, remained stone-faced as his wife, Letina, wailed in the gallery after Harare regional magistrate, Hosea Mujaya, found him guilty of criminal abuse of office.
He was sentenced to four years behind bars while one year and six months of the term were set aside on condition of good behaviour.
Mujaya ruled that Undenge, who had denied the allegations, knowingly authorised a public relations (PR) contract that prejudiced the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) of $12 000.
ZPC is a unit of Zesa Holdings, the national power utility.
Mujaya said although Undenge had laid the blame on the owners of the PR company — Psychology Maziwisa and Oscar Pambuka — for cheating him into signing a letter authorising them to do public relations work, he could not deny he was the one who authored the letter.
The judge said Undenge should have known better as a qualified minister and as a government servant; he ought to have been a good steward.
In mitigation, Undenge through his lawyer Alec Muchadehama, had implored the court to exercise its powers judiciously and temper justice with mercy.
He said he had already endured bad publicity from the case and that in itself was punishment.
The once-powerful Zanu PF official added that he felt as though the conviction was politically-motivated as there were many other cases of corruption in government which were going unpunished.
“He was a person occupying a high office and now he has fallen to be a convicted criminal. In light of this, there is no reason for the accused to be punished more than he has already been punished. He lost his job and there has been a lot of stressful publicity which constitutes enough punishment,” Muchadehama argued.
In aggravation, prosecutor Jonathan Murombedzi argued that Undenge’s moral blameworthiness in the given circumstances was very high given his qualifications as a minister.
He further suggested a custodial sentence of not less than 15 years saying this would send a clear message to would-be offenders.
Mujaya ruled in favour of the State and handed down the sentence he considers would serve as a deterrent to would-be offenders.
He said he had weighed a non-custodial sentence as Undenge was a first-time offender but reasoned that community service or a fine will trivialise the offence as corruption was a cancer that needed to be nipped in the bud.
Undenge was facing charges that relate to a contract awarded to Maziwisa and Pambuka’s company, Fruitful Communications, for publicity work quoted at $12 650 in January 2016.
The two never fulfilled the obligation, the State alleges.
Maziwisa and Pambuka are facing fraud charges in a separate court and are now likely to see the inside of a prison cell following this precedence.
It was the State’s case that sometime in January 2016, Maziwisa and Pambuka brought a letter to ZPC from Undenge directing the company to work with Fruitful Communications at intervals of six months per engagement.
During that month, Maziwisa and Pambuka entered a verbal agreement with ZPC, represented by managing director Noah Gwariro and ZPC public relations officer Fadzayi Chisveto to do publicity work.
It was further alleged and later proved that on March 8, 2016 Maziwisa and Pambuka, intending to defraud ZPC, presented to Chisveto an invoice claiming they had hosted various programmes on Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, National FM and Power FM.
They claimed that Fruitful Communications had caused the programmes to be aired on radio and television and claimed $12 650.
The duo was paid $12 650 and prejudiced ZPC the full amount, and nothing was recovered.
Before Mugabe’s fall, Undenge had served in his Cabinet in various capacities.
He was first appointed deputy minister in the ministry of Finance.
Undenge became minister of Energy in December 2014.
He is believed to have been the co-owner of Star Lotto which is run by his wife, Latina.
Besides the gambling business, Undenge also owns a textile firm Fartingale Designs (Private) Limited which operates under the trade name Panashe Fashions.
Undenge also owns a farm in Chimanimani where he is involved in commercial crop production.
Before his arrest on abuse of office charges, Undenge had endless battles with his ex-wife, Angeline Munyeza over the upkeep of two children he sired with her.
In April 2014, Undenge made several court appearances over a maintenance fight with Munyeza for the upkeep of their two children.
In June this year, he was taken to court over maintenance arrears that had accrued to 226 000 rand. Daily News