A Harare lawyer has refused to testify against former president Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore as a State witness to establish an essential fact of the Zimbabwe Airways senior staff row as well as provide expert testimony saying she retains a contingent fee interest in the case.
Harare lawyer Phillipa Phillips was due to testify against Chikore in the trial but advised the court in a letter that there would be conflict of interest and had to seek consent first. Citing the need to honour lawyer-client privileges, Phillips declined to testify in the State’s case in which Chikore is accused of unlawfully detaining Zimbabwe Airways legal secretary Bertha Zakeyo from exiting the controversial airline’s offices after summarily firing her. Phillips is Zakeyo’s lawyer.
The State insisted that Phillips must testify.
The prohibition against lawyers serving as both counsel and witness in a trial proceeding has a long and complicated history, and the rule itself is riddled with exceptions “She must come and testify and allow the court to make a determination on whether she should do so or not,” prosecutor Mirirai Shumba insisted yesterday.
“The investigating officer who went to her offices intending to subpoena her was informed that she had travelled to South Africa and on Tuesday this week. It is the State’s view that the witness must come and make the record straight. “In the letter, she also stated that she hadn’t been subpoenaed so was under no obligation to appear and testify in court.”
Harare magistrate Victoria Mashamba urged the State to avail all remaining witness and avoid delaying the trial.
“The State is being warned to make available all its witnesses on the next date. Justice delayed is justice denied and all defaulting witnesses will be issued with warrants or risk having to close the State case,” Mashamba said.
Allegations are that Chikore — married to Mugabe’s daughter Bona — reportedly embarked on a purge of senior staff at Zimbabwe Airways he accused of being disloyal to the company.
According to Zakeyo, she received a letter from her boss Chikore, demanding that she responds to a battery of charges levelled against her.
The charges included holding unsanctioned meetings outside the company premises and trading sensitive information.
She later received an e-mail from Chikore demanding that she writes a report detailing her dealings with unnamed external parties.
In a docket opened at the Highlands Police Station, Zakeyo said Chikore — whom she accused of masquerading as a captain — kidnapped her for more than two hours and also denied her access to her lawyer, Phillips.
Trouble has been brewing at Zimbabwe Airways, which is under an opaque ownership that involves government, Chikore and some unnamed foreign nationals. Recently, the airline got delivery of its first bird, a Boeing 777 which was unveiled by President Emmerson Mnangagwa amid much pomp and fanfare.
It was, however, flown back to Malaysia after attracting unsustainable charges including steep parking fees.
The airline also failed to mobilise funds to hire pilots to fly the plane.