Health Minister Obadiah Moyo was on Saturday granted ZW$50 000 bail when he appeared before Chief Magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi facing three criminal abuse of office charges.
Moyo is accused of illegally awarding a multi-million-dollar contract for COVID-19 testing kits, drugs and personal protective equipment to a shadowy company.
The country’s anti-corruption agency arrested Moyo on Friday as the scandal roiled the country and played out on social media, where some local journalists exposed how Moyo allegedly chose the company to sell medical supplies to the government at inflated prices that included face masks for $28 each.
The government cancelled the contracts following public uproar.
One of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s sons was forced to issue a statement denying a link to the company after pictures emerged of the Zimbabwean representative of the firm enjoying the company of the president and his wife and sons at several events.
The representative, Delish Nguwaya, and some top officials of the national drugs procurement agency are already facing criminal charges related to the scandal.
Nguwaya is accused of lying in saying the company was a drugs manufacturing company based in Switzerland, “whereas it was merely a consulting company with no experience in the manufacture of drug and medical products,” according to the charge sheet.
The health minister, a former hospital administrator, faces a fine or up to 15 years in prison if convicted. The prosecution opposed bail, arguing he could flee before the conclusion of the case.
According to the charge sheet, Moyo “exerted pressure” on his subordinates to award the contracts worth $60 million last year and this year.
The scandal comes as health professionals including nurses and doctors in Zimbabwe are on strike demanding to be paid their salaries in U.S. dollars. They argue that inflation that is now above 750% and the erosion of the value of local currency have rendered incomes worthless. Most traders charge for their goods in U.S. dollars in the southern African country that has long faced economic collapse.
The health professionals also have complained about lack of adequate protective gear as the number of coronavirus cases rises.
Zimbabwe has nearly 500 cases. Additional reporting by Associated Press