By Fidelis Munyoro
Former PetroZim Line (Pvt) Limited general manager Catherine Katsande was last year wrongly convicted of fraud, the High Court has ruled deprecating the initiation of criminal proceedings in cases having the elements of a civil dispute in order to get favourable results.
Katsande was in August last year jailed for an effective 60 months after being wrongfully convicted of fraudulently awarding to a local company, tenders for the supply of equipment worth US$2 million during her tenure.
But on appeal, a two-judge bench of the High Court comprising Justices Pisirayi Kwenda and Benjamin Chikowero absolved Katsande of any criminal conduct after the prosecution conceded that the matter was purely a civil case that had been given criminal contours.
Allowing the appeal by Katsande, Justice Kwenda said a civil dispute arising out of a contractual breach could not be converted in a criminal offence to get favourable results.
“The concession by the State is proper,” said Justice Kwenda after the prosecution told the court that they were in agreement with Katsande’s legal counsel that remedies were available for any breach of contract.
“In this regard, criminal law has no place here, particularly that she misrepresented that Kaltred had no capacity to deliver.
“Security was provided and if at some stage complainant felt the performance was due, should have approached the civil court for redress.
“The appeal is allowed and conviction be and is hereby set aside.”
The case exposed a growing tendency in business circles to convert their civil disputes into criminal.
But courts have always frowned upon this practice and condemned the practice of misleading the courts and manipulating the nature of dispute in clear attempt to exploit the judicial proceedings for settling scores.
Katsande (55), was convicted of six counts of fraud and sentenced to 90 months’ imprisonment before 30 months of the jail term was conditionally suspended.
The trial magistrate also fined the company that was awarded the tenders, Keltrade (Pvt) Limited $53 000 for the same offences.
The court heard that that PetroZim Line (Pvt) Limited was incorporated in 1988 by Lonmin and the then National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (Noczim) to transport fuel from Mutare through the Feruka pipeline to Msasa in Harare.
According to the company’s tender procedures, goods and services had to be supplied before payment was processed. In exceptional instances, the board finance committee had to first approve payments.
The court heard that on June 24, 2013 Katsande authorised a payment of US$159 925 after Keltrade had submitted a quotation indicating that it had capacity to supply a gearbox for 10 gate valves.
The money was paid before Keltrade supplied the goods.
On September 24 of the same year, she also authorised payment of US$610 640 to Keltrade after it indicated that it had capacity to supply two skid pumps.
Again on December 9, 2013, Katsande advanced US$363 860 after Keltrade presented a quotation indicating that it was able to supply two ethanol centrifugal pumps.
The money was paid before the supply of the pumps. In February 2015, Katsande also authorized payment of US$91 082 after Keltrade gave her a quotation for the supply of drag resistant spares.
In the same month, Katsande is said to have given permission to payments of various amounts to Keltrade without following laid down procedures.
In March 2015, Katsande was instructed to purchase goods from MIS Solutions, but she disregarded the recommendation and gave the tender to Keltrade. The Herald