Senior Court Reporter
Former Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, arrested on Tuesday on charges of illegally parcelling out land in Harare and Zvimba, will hear today whether his application for bail is successful after spending Tuesday night in police custody and last night in the remand prison cells.
Chombo is already remanded out of custody on bail over previous charges relating to allegations over land deals during his 15 years in office as Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development Minister between 2000 and 2015, having been arrested in 2017, and is now facing a fresh charge of fraud and five fresh counts of criminal abuse of office as a public minister.
The latest charges result from police investigations into the results of the report by the Commission of Inquiry chaired by Justice Tendai Uchena into a swathe of allegedly illegal land transactions, allocations and development.
Harare regional magistrate Mr Stanford Mambanje yesterday formally remanded Chombo in custody when he appeared in court while he considers the application of bail, strongly opposed by the State.
He was not asked to plead to the charges when he appeared before Mr Mambanje.
Mr Charles Muchemwa and Mr Ephraim Zinyandu, appearing for the State, opposed the granting of bail to Chombo saying he was likely to interfere with witnesses and could flee Zimbabwe.
They argued that Chombo was a man of high standing in the country and beyond its borders, expressing fears that he might go beyond the jurisdiction of the court.
“He is a well-travelled man with connections outside the country who might be sympathetic to him and accommodate him. He is still held in high esteem in the community. It is also the State’s fears that he will be able to interfere with witnesses because of the position he holds in society.
“He is a man of means with ability to flee to other countries. The issue of illegal parcelling of stands is topical and being taken as of a serious nature and the court should take that judicial notice,” said Mr Muchemwa.
The police investigating officer for the latest charges, Superintendent Maxwell Gudoricharima, was called to testify against Chombo.
“This case emanated from a Commission of Inquiry chaired by Justice Uchena. There is also public outcry on how the land was misused. The land belongs to people of Zimbabwe not to an individual and its disposal must be done above board,” he said.
In his bail application, Chombo told the court that the Ignatius Chombo Housing Cooperative that he allegedly used to fleece homeseekers, did not exist. He also denied owning the companies that the State alleges were allocated stands on State land.
Chombo told the court that he never instructed officials at Ministry of Local Government to sign any title deed as the State alleges, saying such signing was done as a result of a court order.
He said issues surrounding the Order Farm were dealt with at the Constitutional Court while the Supreme Court made an order on Stoneridge Farm.
Said Professor Lovemore Madhuku in the bail application: “He was arrested in November 2017. We are awaiting a Supreme Court judgment for one and half years in relation to these charges. These new charges fall in the same category with those that he was facing. These allegations are designed to undermine the Supreme Court.”
Prof Madhuku applied that the same bail conditions that Chombo was granted at the High Court should be extended to his new charges but Chombo was prepared to deposit more title deeds as bail surety.
“He is a cancer patient and been in South Africa nine times. Each time he needs to travel, he seeks for variation (of his passport surrender and report conditions) at the High Court.
“The State’s case is weak and there is no case to run away from,” he said.
Prof Madhuku told the court that Chombo surrendered himself to the police, which was not consistent with a person harbouring intentions to evade trial.
Circumstances leading to his arrest are that between 2000 and 2015 when he was Minister of Local Government, Chombo allegedly caused homeseekers to deposit money into Ignatius Chombo Housing Cooperative’s Agribank account for land development. It is alleged that Chombo promised to allocate the homeseekers stands on Kia Ora Farm under Zvimba Rural District Council.
Further allegations are that during the same period, he used his influence as minister and allocated to himself 125 commonage stands in Haydon Park and another five low density commonage stands in Philadelphia Farm in Harare. The stands were allegedly surrendered by Misheck Mangwende.
Chombo is also accused of allocating stands to companies he allegedly owns — Comverol Enterprise (Pvt) Ltd, Cayford and Cavford (Pvt) Ltd in Carrick Creagh Farm in Harare — without paying for the stands.
He also allegedly sold State land at Order Farm to Sensene Investments (Pvt) Limited and is alleged to have instructed officers at the Local Government Ministry to sign a Deed of Settlement for Stoneridge Farm for Phillip Chiyangwa’s Pinnacle Holdings without Cabinet approval.
Chombo has been appearing in court over fraud and criminal abuse office cases. Besides charges relating to land deals it is also alleged that on October 1, 2005, Chombo hatched a plan to defraud the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) under its “Other Crops and Livestock Support Facility” by applying for a loan of $14 billion, to be repaid within 18 months, and indicated his address as Allen Grange Farm in Rafingora. He allegedly misrepresented that he was going to use the loan to buy agricultural equipment and converted the money to personal use.