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State reopens case against Russian who infiltrated Registrar-General’s office to obtain fake passports

By Farayi Machamire

The State has reopened its case against a Russian national — Steven Sugden — accused of infiltrating the registrar-general (RG)’s office and obtaining fake passports.

Registra-General Tobaiwa Mudede (in glasses)
Registra-General Tobaiwa Mudede (in glasses)

Sugden was apprehended by police’s Serious Fraud Squad in December last year and was charged with two counts of fraud involving criminally acquiring and possessing two travel documents using “fake” identity documentation.

He allegedly misrepresented to the RG’s office that he was not born in Zimbabwe and had never applied for Zimbabwean citizenship.

But according to the RG’s office, Sugden reportedly acquired two Zimbabwean passports — one in Bindura and the other in Chinhoyi — using a fake birth certificate and national identity card, which were then strangely inputted into the RG’s database.

State witness, Daniel Gozhora, a senior security officer in the RG’s office, said the birth certificate and the national identity document used by Sugden got into the system through criminal acts.

Officers involved in the fraud have since been fired and arrested.

According to the State outline, Austin Kusokora from the RG’s Office, who is at large, entered the identity card details into the system in 2012 while Elijah Sithole from the same office in Bindura, who received the application form from Sugden, appeared in court over the matter.

It is the State case that Sugden used a national identity document belonging to Jerry White, an alien, and a birth certificate for Sarudzai Kufa, to acquire the passports.

The national identity number used was issued when Sugden was about nine years old and hence he did not qualify to hold such a document.

Harare magistrate Tendai Mahwe granted an order for the State to reopen the case on Tuesday after the State, which previously closed its case months ago, requested for the resuscitation of the matter arguing it is in possession of new evidence.

In his ruling, Mahwe said he established that police had concealed evidence during the initial hearing.

“The State alleges that accused fraudulently obtained passports in Zimbabwe yet he is not a holder of a Zimbabwean birth certificate or a Zimbabwean identity card,” Mahwe said in his ruling.

“Yet the defence of the accused is that he was born in Zimbabwe at a place called Arcturus.

“Evidence which shows that the accused was not born in Zimbabwe will be relevant to the State’s case. Also this evidence was not given to the State counsel by deliberate acts of the police.

“It would be fair to allow the State to reopen its case and lead this evidence.

“Accordingly, the State’s application to reopen its case is hereby granted.”

However, the major bone of contention of the defence counsel, led by advocate Thabani Mpofu, was that the State had closed its case before applying to reopen it when

Tatiana Aleshina, who it now says it wants to bring as its lead witness, wrote a letter to judge president George Chiweshe.

In the letter to Chiweshe and copied to the Anti-Corruption Commission, Aleshina complains that the prosecution of the accused had

been mishandled by the State and presiding magistrate Mahwe.

The letter was submitted by the defence as part of its application to have the matter referred to the Constitutional Court.

“Your worship this is a tainted and illegitimate process robbing the accused of the protection of the law,” Mpofu said in his submissions to have the matter heard at the Constitutional Court.

“It is not in dispute that you (Mahwe) have been called to listen to this application which the State did not say it wanted to make.

“You listen to this application under circumstances where your ruling still stands, under circumstances where you are required to review yourself, where you are being accused of corruption,” Mpofu said.

“A High Court order made without jurisdiction is hanging over your head, which order having been granted without jurisdiction.

“I do not ask you to make a determination, I instead ask the Constitutional Court to do so . . . a determination by those who have not been compromised.

“The only way justice can be done in this matter is by allowing people who are detached, who have not been made to write reports, people who are not facing allegations of corruption.

“This can only be achieved if this matter is referred to the Constitutional Court.”

Lawyer Admire Rubaya who testified for the defence, argued that it was against the rules of natural justice that an accused person appears before a court “whose independence has been undermined”.

In his closing submissions for the application for referral to the apex court, Mpofu took a swipe at Mahwe.

“I say this with respect that you are compromised, that is the bottom line from which they could be no deviation,” he said.

However, Mahwe went on to rule in favour of the State’s argument that the defence counsel’s application was a ploy to delay and frustrate the court process.

He subsequently granted the State’s application to have the case reopened. Daily News