BY CHARLES LAITON
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s top aide Douglas Tapfuma, who briefly served as principal director of State Residences, was last Friday denied bail by the High Court after making a determination that his chances of being convicted and incarcerated over criminal abuse of office charges were high.
The former top secret agent boss was recently arrested on allegations of using the influence of his office to import over 100 cars duty-free under the pretext that they belonged to the Office of the President and Cabinet.
When he appeared at the Harare Magistrates Court, he was denied bail on the basis that he is facing a serious offence and that if convicted, he is likely to face a custodial sentence, a result which could induce him to flee.
But in his bail appeal before High Court judge Justice Philda Muzofa, Tapfuma dismissed claims that he was a flight risk, arguing that even if he is convicted, which he said was highly unlikely, he would not be given a custodial sentence considering that the offence also attracts a fine as an alternative form of punishment.
However, Justice Muzofa warned Tapfuma that he is likely to face a custodial sentence.
“It is the abuse of his official position to import vehicles in the name of the State and use of State resources to his benefit. This is the conduct that, if proved is taken into account, the total prejudice is an additional consideration, but not the determinant factor in sentencing upon conviction,” Justice Muzofa said.
“It is the use of the State machinery to his benefit that is punishable. Apparently, what the State alleged was not denied. Counsel insisted that the process was above board, it was approved by the Chief Secretary (Misheck Sibanda). That would not absolve him (Tapfuma) if the vehicles were for his personal use.”
The judge further said it is her considered view that at the time of investigations, the circumstances were different in that there was no incentive for Tapfuma to abscond, but now that he has been arrested, he is now well aware of the evidence that awaits him and the likely penalty has now created a different outlook of the circumstances.
“The penalty provision provides for a fine not exceeding level 13 or imprisonment up to 15 years. It seems the State has a solid case so far. Clearly, this is a serious matter, which is likely to attract imprisonment. This is where the ordinary human inclinations come into play, the higher the probabilities of a conviction, the greater the incentive to abscond,” the judge said.
On the question of interfering with witnesses, Justice Muzofa said chances are very high that Tapfuma will interfere with them, given that most of them were his former juniors.
“At the time of arrest, the appellant (Tapfuma) was still employed in the office. As investigations come to finality, he is now aware of the witnesses who were his subordinates. The court cannot ignore the fact that this is a senior government employee who, to some extent, has influence. I did not hear any indication that he had been relieved of his duties, but there was some submission before the magistrate that he had been moved to head another department … accordingly, the appeal against refusal of bail is dismissed,” she said. NewsDay