‘We have learnt a lot of lessons’

Source: ‘We have learnt a lot of lessons’ | Sunday Mail (Local News)

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL Mr Kumbirai Hodzi assumed office over two years ago, replacing Advocate Ray Goba who had tendered his resignation in 2018.

Since his appointment, he has superintended over the prosecution of several former Government officials, securing convictions in some high-profile cases.

The Sunday Mail’s Deputy News Editor Lincoln Towindo spoke to Mr Hodzi about his time in office and the ongoing anti-corruption crusade.

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Q: Can you describe your time in office as substantive PG, focusing on what you have learnt particularly in the fight against corruption?

A: The two years that the PG has been in office have been an eye-opener.

This is so in the sense that when we initially came into office, we were operating on a very naïve basis; on the principle of good faith that everybody involved in the fight against corruption was going to be honest.

In the two years that the PG has been in office, we have learnt quite a lot of lessons.

We have refined our strategies, redesigned our programmes and plans of action.

But more importantly, we have come up with battle-hardened anti-corruption cadres.

We are no longer naïve because the major mistake that we made was underestimating the determination and organisation of the criminal elements, especially the organised criminals.

At the end of two years, we have come up with a clearer picture of the nature of the enemy that we are facing and developed what we call the Integrated Prosecutorial Strategy.

The PG’s office developed that strategy in answer to real problems.

This strategy is underpinned by consultation, cooperation and coordination of all key law enforcement agencies to ensure that the best possible case with the most compelling evidence is brought before the courts for prosecution.

The strategy is informed from a continuing scientific study of the nature and behaviour of organised criminal syndicates.

We now know that they are extremely organised and as such, as anti-corruption entities, we also need to be equally organised.

Such a strategy is critical to thwarting the machinations of organised criminal syndicates.

I have pointed out that they are highly organised in every sphere of their operations.

They have sympathisers in all spheres of our national institutions, including the legal fraternity, the media, political parties, business and even in the religious sector.

They were initially not wary of the fact that they were ruthlessly exploiting our weak coordination as State agencies and we have rectified that.

We are now talking and acting in unison; there is no fighting over turf.

We are very constructive in our approach.

We have established what we call the inter-agency liaison desk between all the key law enforcement agencies.

Q: You took over at the NPA when the office was in need of fundamental changes. What sort of changes have you introduced over the last two years to help not only professionalise but also turn the PG’s office into a world-class prosecutions unit?

A: The NPA was seriously under-resourced when I took over as the PG.

For instance, there was a shortage of human capital.

The NPA was operating from a rented building, there were no vehicles, no computers, no Wi-Fi/internet services, etc.

The PG has been hard at work mobilising resources and Treasury support to ensure that the NPA is capacitated to deliver on its mandate in a timely and professional manner, and at world-class level.

We have set up a secretariat that is responsible for the administration of the NPA’s affairs.

The secretariat has been hard at work and has made quantum leaps in resource mobilisation and delivering and placement of resources where they are most needed.

We have received tremendous support from Government through the Ministry of Finance (and Economic Development).

We were given Treasury support to recruit a total of 291 prosecutors and 190 administration staff.

The NPA now owns the building that houses its head office. Treasury has also supported the NPA buy vehicles, computers, provide internet services for operations.

The NPA is in the process of establishing several directorates. So far, we have established the Crime Intelligence Unit, the Training Directorate, the Inspectorate Directorate, Wildlife and Environmental Crimes Directorate.

These units will go a long way in capacitating the work of NPA. The Asset Forfeiture Unit has been expanded.

Asset forfeiture applications should not be done at head office only.

We want every prosecutor in the NPA not only to prosecute the predicate offences but also to ensure that accused persons do not get to enjoy ill-gotten proceeds of crime by invoking provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

As we speak, prosecutors are being equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills in asset forfeiture.

It is imperative that they should have this knowledge at their fingertips.

We have partnered with the local, regional and international authorities in the fight against corruption, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network of Southern Africa (ARINSA), World Bank Group through their Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, as well as the ICJ to train prosecutors in the prosecution of corruption cases, anti-money laundering laws and asset forfeiture.

The training will continue until we are satisfied that every prosecutor, including the recently recruited prosecutors, understand economic crime and asset forfeiture.

The NPA also sent officers to India to take part in various courses including cybercrime, criminology and forensics.

These courses were chosen because they have a bearing and a weighty impact on economic crimes and corruption.

We believe that these prosecutors will add value to the fight against corruption through the knowledge and skills that they are receiving currently in India.

We continue to explore areas and ways in which we can continue to grow our knowledge and skill base as a leading authority in the criminal justice sector with particular emphasis on economic crime and corruption.

Q: The New Dispensation, upon coming into office, quickly moved to introduce fully fledged anti-corruption courts. How have these courts helped in revitalising the fight against graft?

A: When the Second Republic came into being, one of its cornerstone policies was fighting corruption using the courts. This showed that there was immense political will from the Executive in terms of ensuring that the fight is executed in a comprehensive manner.

The establishment of the courts was testament to the Second Republic’s determination to do that.

It has been very crucial to the fight against corruption. The courts have had a tremendous effect in the fight against corruption.

Q: One of the key features of these courts is the power to order asset forfeiture. Can you outline the amount of work that you have done to facilitate the seizure of wealth deemed to be proceeds of corruption?

A: Asset seizures are always a key demand from the public in cases involving corruption and they are also a deterrent feature for would-be offenders.

Ill-gotten wealth must be disgorged off criminals.

All the prosecutors and law officers who operate in these courts have been trained in all aspects and requirements of asset forfeiture.

There has been immense progress in the forfeiture of assets. Anti-corruption courts have magistrates and prosecutors that are well-trained in all the aspects and legal regime of asset forfeiture.

We have also set up prosecutorial teams that have proved to be very useful in reducing the backlog in corruption cases.

These teams are made up of battle-hardened officers whose experience and legal expertise has been shown in the number of cases that we have done so far.

So far, we have made tremendous inroads in civil asset forfeiture applications.

These applications are made in the anti-corruption courts. So far, we have recovered two houses and vehicles including haulage trucks, all with a total value of over US$600 000. We have a total of US$13 100 000 of assets that were forfeited to the fiscus.

A further US$30 000 000 of assets is frozen pending confiscation proceedings in the High Court.

The other thing we need to know is that our inter-agency approach has helped with the stabilisation of the currency.

You will know that the Zimbabwean dollar has been very stable for nearly a year now.

That was result, to a large extent, of our cooperation with the monetary authorities like the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Financial Intelligence Unit and also other agencies like the CID and special agencies mandated to fight serious economic crime.

We are preparing and we have prepared cases against persons who were manipulating the mobile money platforms, including the owners, and also the agents who were carrying out the shenanigans attacking the stability of our currency.

That has to a large extent helped in bringing about stabilisation of the currency.

Q: Are we likely to see some of these currency manipulators being hauled before the anti-corruption courts?

A: They are coming. There are cases that have been prepared. Both the owners of the mobile money platforms and the persons who were being used to create phantom money.

They are going to be brought before the courts.

Q: How did these currency manipulators operate from what you have gathered through investigations?

A: I do not want at this stage, as it were, to disturb or affect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.

But they were operating in the sense that there were gaps which they had identified.

But we are happy that the monetary authorities through the RBZ have taken robust steps to make sure that those gaps are closed.

As I have indicated, in terms of creating of phantom money, there are going to be prosecutions.

Q: You mention the rise of organised criminal cartels. If you could just outline how deeply rooted these gangs are into the fabric of Zimbabwean society and, according to your investigations, how have they worked against the country’s developmental aspirations?

 A: The brilliant move by the Second Republic was the realisation that we have to have concerted strategy against corruption.

It was also from the realisation that for the past, maybe, 30 years we had allowed corruption to proliferate in a manner that was not being monitored and there were no sanctions and effective prosecution and control.

People tended to treat corruption as if it was a new normal, so it became deeply ingrained.

At the same time, because of lack of action, the organised syndicates had room to manoeuvre across all sectors of the economy.

And this is what we are addressing now.

The growth of (the) economy and the transformation of the country into a (upper) middle-income economy by 2030 is predicated upon a fight against corruption.

Corruption has been responsible for siphoning a lot of resources that were essential for our economic resuscitation.

We underestimated the problem but now we have strategies in place.

In addition, I want everyone to understand that this is also a question of integrity.

There was massive erosion of integrity in our public life and we must reorient ourselves now to the reintroduction of integrity.

Q: One of the biggest criticisms that have been aimed at your office is that of alleged failure to nail the so-called “big fish” who are accused of corruption, leading to the coining of terms such as “catch and release”. What is your response to such criticism?

A: A proper analysis of the cases before the courts shows that the PG’s Office has made concerted efforts in trying to nail and secure criminal trials and convictions of all persons accused of corruption.

There is no instance or an example that can be given of the so-called catch-and-release syndrome, which was in fact created by the very criminal syndicates in trying to foment cynicism.

Due legal process in Zimbabwe is effective, but what we have are organised criminal syndicates working with legal counsel in trying to exploit the system through abusing due process in order to delay the completion of trials.

Even when we have open-and-shut cases, we have a record number of spurious applications being made on behalf of accused persons by lawyers.

I can give plenty of examples, like in the matter of (Ignatius) Chombo, we have a record number of applications he made to the superior courts.

In the case Jason Machaya, there were also those applications that were made which delayed trial by 18 months.

But after the exhaustion of all those applications, he was convicted. We have also celebrated a number of high-profile convictions. The former minister, Undenge, was convicted after trying all sorts of delays.

Also the case of the former principal director in the Office of the President, Tapfumaneyi, who was convicted of abuse of office.

Of course there have been delays, the case of Prisca Mupfumira, for example, is an open-and-shut case but is being taken at each and every stage through applications that are meant to delay trial.

You will know from the record that two weeks ago after the State had led five witnesses, she made an application to the High Court to try and have the case tried de novo (all over again).

Those are some of the shenanigans and scorched earth tactics that are being adopted by defence legal counsel to try and delay as much as possible.

Q: As PG, are you satisfied with the rate of criminal convictions in court and how would you evaluate the performance of your team over the last two years?

A: At the end of two years, we have learnt plenty of lessons. We were probably naïve and acting on the principle of utmost good faith at the beginning, and in the process underestimating the determination and the extent of criminality of the cartels.

We have now built a very good team.

We have revised the rules.

We have established prosecutorial teams that are very effective and those are the teams that have been responsible for thwarting the shenanigans that I have alluded to.

We are happy that as we go on there is going to be fully fledged prosecution of all matters.

You will be happy to know that we have entered into an agreement with the Judicial Service Commission, where we are going to be operating a continuous anti-corruption court which will sit every day even on public holidays at Harare Magistrates’ Court.

We are also establishing a similar court with the agreement of the Judge President at Harare High Court.

We are cascading that model to Bulawayo where we will have another court at the regional level and at Bulawayo High Court.

So, you will see a critical mass of prosecutions, now that we know what is going on and we have the strategies.

And also coupled with that, the delays that have been caused by applications in superior courts, the judgements are now coming and most have been dismissed and most have now been set down for trial.

Also to prevent this strategy of delaying, when you charge an accused person at a lower court, it opens for them room to make applications to superior courts.

So we are simply going to indict accused person in the superior courts where they are going to be tried.

Because in the superior courts there is little room for applications.

But what we have agreed to do is that the anticipated new court rules will tighten and ensure that there are as few as possible of those applications that will be accepted by the courts.

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