Victoria Falls businessman acquitted of fraud
By Leonard Ncube
Victoria Falls businessman Mr Garikayi Mushambavanhu, who was being accused of fleecing tourists by booking them into non-existent rooms, has been found not guilty and acquitted of fraud.
The accused allegedly fleeced dozens of tourists of huge sums of money in different currencies by booking them into non-existent rooms in December last year.
The victims are from South Africa and Botswana as well as locals who had visited the resort town for the Victoria Falls Carnival.
Victoria Falls magistrate, Ms Rangarirai Gakanje, last week said there was no evidence directly linking Mr Mushambavanhu to the crime.
The court established that the victims paid the money to Mr Mushambavanhu’s wife, Nyarai, who fled the country last month fearing arrest. She is on the police wanted list and is believed to be hiding in Botswana.
The court also noted that the victims dealt with some agents, some of them unregistered, who were in direct contact with Nyarai.
Mr Mushambavanhu (43), who was represented by Mr Njabulo Ndlovu of Ndove, Museta and Partners, bragged in court about owning more than 20 houses in the resort town.
He owns Sweet Homes Lodge, which the couple would allegedly advertise online for overnight accommodation. They would collect money from accommodation seekers whom they would then squash into sub-standard rooms some of them in incomplete buildings.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) reacted by cancelling the lodge’s operating licence in a crackdown on unregistered lodges in the resort town.
Allegations against Mr Mushambavanhu of number 686 Syringa Road, Victoria Falls were that he booked six families each with between six and 13 members in the same rooms during the festive season.
He allegedly collected money from accommodation seekers knowing there were no vacant rooms. The issue came to light when six families clashed at one of the properties where some were made to sleep on the floor and others in bathrooms.
It has also emerged that Mr Mushambavanhu allegedly operates a bogus real estate agency while also claiming to be a registered lawyer as well as demanding rentals in United States dollars and either evicting or harassing those who fail to pay. Some tenants have complained about being assaulted by him.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Mr Munesu Munodawafa, recently said Government was not taking the issue lightly as it destroys the image of the country, which the new dispensation was rebuilding through international re-engagement.
Victoria Falls Town Clerk Mr Ronnie Dube also said both council and Government were losing significant amounts of revenue to illegal operators who convert private houses into bogus lodges. Mr Onias Nyathi prosecuted. The Chronicle