HARARE – Business partners Mike Chimombe and Moses Mpofu, who are accused of fraud for failing to deliver goats to the lands and agriculture ministry for the Presidential Goat Scheme were sent to remand prison on Wednesday as lawyers and prosecutors sparred over bail.

Their lawyers said bail should be automatic where a suspect voluntarily attends court while coming from home, but the National Prosecuting Authority opposed bail, arguing that they in fact were in the custody of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, which is bringing the charges.

Magistrate Marewanazvo Gofa said she would make a determination on whether they came from home or not at 2.15PM on Thursday. A finding that they came from home is likely to see the duo granted bail.

Prosecutor Anesu Chirenje told the court: “The state is opposed to bail. The accused are not coming from home but ZACC. We request that the matter be postponed to tomorrow for bail application. I need to lead evidence from ZACC on whether the accused are coming from home

“I have also received expanse documentation which I will not be able to lead evidence on today. I also need to furnish the defence and not to ambush them despite that the issues of bail are urgent.

“I fully respect the constitutional rights of the accused to be heard and tried within a reasonable time. But in the interests of justice, it is also fair for me as the prosecutor to acquaint myself with the documents.

“The court can only come to a conclusion on the first issue I have submitted if it hears evidence. I intend to lead evidence from two ZACC investigating officers Zimunhu and Chapwanya.”

The defence bristled at Chirenje’s application.

Advocate Tapson Dzvetero, for Mpofu, argued: “My client is opposed to the postponement because bail applications are urgent in their nature. The state can call evidence from whoever right away. We are fully geared to respond.

“The investigating officer is known, we have been seized with the matter for a while. This is a simple issue which does not require much time.

“Why would the state claim that, even when armed with a Form 242, that they still want this matter to be postponed to tomorrow?”

Advocate Ashiel Mugiya, representing Mpofu, said prosecutors should not have called his client to court if they were not ready.

“It is prejudicial, the manner in which the state intends to run this case. The court must take judicial notice that the state, including the ZACC chairperson, has been in the news publicly stating that they are investigating both accused persons and that they would interview them .

“This case has been investigated for a very long time and they decided today that they were going to apply for placing the accused on remand. The accused were arrested today at 10:30AM. For the state to then seek to place the accused on remand and then summersault is dangerous.

“My client arrived today at court at 10:30AM. The state is dominus litis (the master of the suit)… they decided to bring the accused before this court at 3PM. To then deprive an accused the opportunity to make a bail application when they have no control on time to appear before a magistrate is wrong, especially when the witnesses are available.”

Gofa, giving her ruling, said: “Upon analysis, this court finds that it is not in dispute that bail applications are urgent, so the issue of bail the court cannot focus on that but the application for postponement.

“The court also finds that the defence lawyers are alleging that they came to court at 10:30AM. The defence also argued that the court can sit after 4PM, but the court rules that it is at the discretion of this court if it has further work to do or not.

“It is plausible for this court to grant a postponement in favour of the state for it to lead evidence on whether the accused are coming from home or ZACC. The application is hereby granted.”

Prosecutors say the fraud charges emanate from tender documents submitted by the two men through a company called Blackdeck Private Limited in September 2021 when the ministry of lands and agriculture invited bids for the supply of 632,001 goats under a scheme worth US$87,757,168 to distribute goats nationally, whose beneficiaries would pass on the animals to the next needy household after kidding.

Prosecutors say after winning the tender, it was Blackdeck Livestock and Poultry Farming, an unregistered company, which signed documents with the ministry. Mpofu represented the company and Chimombe acted as a witness.

On further review of Blackdeck Private Limited’s documents, it is alleged that the company had no valid tax clearance certificate from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority for 2021, and that a QR code attached to the National Social Security compliance certificate belonged to a different company called Skywalk Investments. Both documents were required for one to be eligible to bid for the tender.

Acting on the misrepresentations, prosecutors say the ministry went on to pay 30 percent of the contract in the local currency, an amount of ZWL1.6 billion which was allegedly equivalent to US$7,712,197 in two instalments on April 21, 2022, and June 29, 2022.

Following delays in delivering the goats, the ministry engaged Blackdeck and was informed that the company had mobilised 32,500 goats across the provinces which were ready to be distributed to the final beneficiaries. A verification process by the ministry at various sites, it is alleged, however showed that the company only had 3,713 goats.

“After the ministry of lands realised that they were being deceived by the accused persons they then cancelled the contract on August 29, 2022,” charges the NPA.

To date, the prosecution says 4,208 goats worth US$331,445.25 have been delivered and the ministry was prejudiced of US$7,380,751.85.

In a statement issued last week, both men denied the charges. They argue that the dispute with the ministry is a commercial matter and not criminal. They say the cancellation of the tender, which was to run for five years, has been referred to arbitration.