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Grace Pfumbidzayi freed on bail

By Daniel Nemukuyu

HARARE – Jailed former Air Zimbabwe company secretary Grace Pfumbidzayi was yesterday granted $5 000 bail by the High Court pending determination of her appeal against conviction and sentence.

Grace Pfumbidzayi
Grace Pfumbidzayi

Pfumbidzayi and former chief executive Peter Chikumba, who was released on bail on Wednesday, were jailed seven years each for criminal abuse of duty as public officers.

They were found guilty of swindling the airline of millions of dollars in an aircraft insurance scam. Justice Happias Zhou yesterday held that Pfumbidzayi was not a flight risk and that she was a proper candidate for bail.

Pfumbidzayi must surrender title deeds to a house in Southerton, Harare, with a market value of $30 000 and another one in Masvingo valued at $25 000 plus a Plot measuring 5,813 hectares along Lake Mtirikwi valued at $80 000 as surety.

She was ordered to report to the police twice a week and to continue staying at her given residential address. Justice Zhou granted her bail after convincing arguments by Advocate Webster Chinamhora and Mr Andrew Muvirimi that Pfumbidzayi had no reason to abscond.

The lawyers also successfully demonstrated that Pfumbidzayi’s prospects of success on appeal were bright. The judge, without determining the pending appeal against conviction and sentence, commented that Section 174 of the Criminal code under which Pfumbidzayi was charged, was not meant to punish public officers for incompetence but for corruptly abusing office in order to gain something.

“It (Section 174) is not meant to punish employees who happen to be public officers for mere incompetence or unsatisfactory performance of duties for which they were appointed.

“For that reason, not every unsatisfactory performance of duty constitutes an offence in terms of that section.

“The section must be considered for what it was intended — to punish those who abuse their offices in order to gain some advantage whether for themselves or some other persons.

“Further, in considering whether there was criminal abuse of duty, the court must consider the circumstances in which the officer was and not to adopt an armchair approach to the issues with the benefit of hindsight,” ruled Justice Zhou.

Justice Zhou also said the magistrate who dismissed the first bail application erred by making a bald statement that there were no prospects of success without even attempting to analyse the evidence led in that respect.

It was also the court’s finding that the magistrate erred in taking “absence of exceptional circumstances” warranting the release on bail as a requirement in considering a bail application. Justice Zhou said that was not a requirement in considering a bail application, hence the magistrate erred at law.

Meanwhile, Pfumbidzayi has filed amended grounds of appeal in which she argues that when she was charged for criminal abuse of duty, she was not a public officer.

Charges against Chikumba and Pfumbidzayi arose after an anomaly was discovered pertaining to amounts paid between April 2009 and April 2013 to a company called Navistar Insurance Brokers (Private) Limited (Navistar) in respect of aviation insurance premiums.

The State accused the duo of enlisting the services of Navistar to provide aviation and insurance cover without going to tender after terminating services of other existing companies. The Herald