By Desmond Chingarande and Charles Laiton | NewsDay |
A top ally of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and former Director of State Residences, Douglas Tapfuma, allegedly imported more than 100 personal vehicles duty-free using fake report order forms used by government to import its vehicles, the court heard yesterday.
This comes at a time Tourism and Hospitality minister Priscah Mupfumira has petitioned the High Court seeking bail, while accusing the State of sensationalising and whipping emotions in a case in which she is facing charges of defrauding the National Social Security Authority of over US$95 million.
A Harare magistrate heard that some of the vehicles imported by Tapfuma were given to former Zanu PF Member of Parliament for Mbizo, Vongaishe Mupereri, another top ally of Mnangagwa.
According to Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) investigations officer Timothy Guta, 15 of the vehicles were recovered and 75, including Isuzu twin-cab vehicles, have been identified.
Tapfuma (53), who was represented by Esau Mandipa and Valentine Mutatu, was denied bail when he appeared before magistrate Hosea Mujaya.
In denying him bail, the State, represented by Charles Muchemwa, argued that Tapfuma was a flight risk as the evidence of the matter was overwhelming and also that he would interfere with State witnesses and intimidate his subordinates.
But Tapfuma’s lawyers argued that their client was of fixed aboard and could not flee the court’s jurisdiction.
They also submitted that Zacc officers recorded the statement of the case eight months ago, but he did not flee.
Mandipa also suggested that his client be allowed to deposit $500 as bail accompanied by other conditions to allay the State’s fears.
But Mujaya dismissed the submissions, saying Tapfuma was a flight risk and also could interfere with the State witnesses.
The complainant is the State, represented by Egepha Victoria Jokomo, the Chief Director of State Residences. It is the State’s case that on April 10 last year, Tapfuma purchased two personal Toyota Hiace minibuses from South Africa.
Seven days later, Tapfuma allegedly assigned Bonani Ganyane, an officer working in the transport section of the Department of State Residences, to proceed to Beitbridge and facilitate clearance of the two vehicles on behalf of these departments using report order forms as if they were government vehicles.
It is alleged clearance of goods by report order form is a procedure that is normally used by government departments to apply for deferred clearance of goods by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra).
Ganyane allegedly proceeded to Beitbridge and provisionally cleared the vehicles using the report order forms.
After clearing the vehicles, he apprised Tapfuma, who instructed him to hand over the vehicles to Mupereri, who at the time was the Mbizo legislator.
It is alleged on April 20 last year, Tapfuma made an application to the Chief Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet for duty-free certificates in the name of President’s department and they were issued.
He allegedly applied for duty exemption for the two vehicles at Zimra, which was granted.
The State alleges Tapfuma then registered the vehicles at Central Vehicle Registry (CVR) under the name of the President’s department and started using them for personal use. The vehicles were liable to US$3 180 duty.
On the second count, the State alleges that Tapfuma purchased three personal vehicles — a Toyota Altezza, Honda Accord and a Nissan Tiida — from South Africa.
It is also alleged that in June last year, Tapfuma assigned Cousin Gwanyanya, who was then acting transport manager in the Department of State Residences, to clear the vehicles from Zimra.
He allegedly gave Gwanyanya a written request on official department of State residences addressed to Zimra Regional manager authorising him to clear the vehicles.
Gwanyanya provisionally cleared the vehicles and delivered them to the accused at State House.
He registered the vehicles at CVR, but started using them for personal use. He was supposed to pay US$4 340 for the vehicles.
On another count, the State alleges that on August 1 last year, Tapfuma purchased two vehicles, a Honda Fit and a BMW 318i, from South Africa.
During the same month, he assigned Gwanyanya to fraudulently process clearance of the vehicles at Beitbridge.
He repeated the same trick knowing the vehicles were his personal property. He was supposed to pay US$4 000 for the vehicles. The seven vehicles are being held as exhibits.
The State alleges that at all times, he was aware the vehicles did not belong to the President’s department. He used the department officials, who claimed travel and subsistence allowances.
Meanwhile, Mupfumira, who is detained at the Chikurubi Female Prison over charges of criminal abuse, made her bid for freedom at the High Court.
The Cabinet minister, who is also Senator for Mashonaland West province, was remanded in custody on Saturday last week after acting Chief Magistrate, Munamato Mutevedzi, upheld the Prosecutor-General’s (PG) certificate requesting her to be detained for 21 days pending investigations into the matter.
But in her submissions at the High Court, through her lawyer Advocate Lewis Uriri, Mupfumira maintained that the State’s evidence against her was weak.
“The State’s case is fanciful, porous as has been shown above. The State failed to effectively reply to these criticisms, preferring to hide behind the lame excuse that these are triable issues to be determined at trial. With respect, the relative strengths of the State and defence cases are a relevant consideration. The State’s refusal to relate thereto must be to the applicant’s (Mupfumira) benefit,” Uriri said.
“In terms of the figures the offence might seem great but those figures were just thrown into the air with no relationship whatsoever with the applicant.
“This could be a malicious astute way of sensitising the matter and emotionalise the public with a view to aggravate this bare allegation so that the court will be reluctant to grant her liberty which attempt has so far been successful in the lower court.”
Mupfumira was remanded in custody when PG Kumbirai Hodzi made the application to have her detained in terms of section 32(3b) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, but Uriri said the minister had now approached the High Court pursuant to rule 6(1) of the High Court of Zimbabwe (Bail) Rules 1991.
“It is submitted that there is nothing in the bail rules that excludes the exercise of the High Court’s review powers under section 28 and 29 of the High Court Act,” he said.
“Sight must not be lost of the fact that applicant as shown above, did not try to flee the jurisdiction. There is no evidence to back up that finding. The applicant is a citizen of Zimbabwe ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe and of fixed abode. She owns property in Zimbabwe and has a family.”
The advocate also urged the court to consider the fact that Mupfumira had always known of the allegations, adding: “… she was named in a Press report on June 24, 2019 …
“the above, taken by the fact that the applicant has always been aware of the allegations, and that the facts are yet to be fully investigated, disclose that the defence case is stronger than the State case and that the applicant will stand trial to vindicate herself”.
In her proposal, Mupfumira has tendered her passport, title deeds to an immovable property and $3 000. The matter is yet to be set down for hearing.