HARARE – Environmental Management Agency (EMA) director general Aaron Chigona has been freed on US$300 bail following his Tuesday arrest by Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) officers and a subsequent court appearance over graft allegations the next day.

Chigona, 55, appeared before Harare magistrate Stanford Mambanje charged with criminal abuse of office.

It is alleged that he approved the development of some stands situated on wetlands in Borrowdale, Harare.

Chigona, according to prosecutors fraudulently issued an environmental impact assessment (EIA) certificate to Borrowdale Investments Private Limited.

The company, through its director Jin Liangming, submitted an application for an EIA to EMA for the development of cluster houses on two stands measuring 1,5773 and 23,9684 hectares in Borrowdale West, Harare.

This land is also said to have been corruptly given to him by Harare officials who have already on remand awaiting trial.

According to prosecutors, from September to October 2021, EMA reports conducted an assessment and review of the prospects of both the stands and the Director of Environmental protection wrote to Jin informing him that the project could not be approved as the project area was within a wetland.

Jin was further advised to make an appeal to Chigona if he felt aggrieved by the decision.

Jin then reportedly appealed against the decision on November 3, 2021.

Chigona then instituted a site ecological re-assessment on November 30 and nine days later, wrote to Jin advising him that EMA’s decision remains unchanged.

He also advised him to appeal with their minister if he was not happy but later made a u-turn on his decision.

“On the 26th of July 2023, the accused instructed officers from EMA Harare Provincial Office, Armstrong Moyo and Leon Mutungamiri to come up with EIA review guidelines certifying that the area was compatible for housing development, yet the area is the core of a wetland and accused had earlier declined to grant EIAs.

“This was also contrary to the accused’s earlier position that the proponent should appeal to the Minister in terms of section 130,” said prosecutors.

On August 2, he then approved Jin request for an EIA yet the agency had declined to approve the project.

This was despite the fact that Jin had exhausted all EMA’s appeal processes.

“The EIA was in respect of the same project that he had declined to issue an EIA which he had steadfastly indicated was detrimental to the wetland,” read court papers.

Prosecutors said by doing this Chigona acted contrary to his duty as a public official to safeguard the environment as he allowed cluster houses to be developed on wetlands.