Minister jailed for contempt of court

Source: Minister jailed for contempt of court | The Herald November 10, 2016

Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
Home Affairs Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo has been slapped with a 90-day prison term for defying High Court orders compelling him to pay back $78 900 that was unlawfully seized from a Mutare businessman Mr Tendai Blessing Mangwiro.

Justice Amy Tsanga found the minister guilty of contempt of court and jailed him for three months with labour.

The judge said the sentence may be wholly suspended if Minister Chombo complies with the court orders he defied.

“It is declared that the respondent is guilty of contempt of the court order of this honourable court granted under case number HC4261/16 in that:

a) He wilfully disregarded the court orders in case number HC4766/13 and HC4261 /16 and refused to comply with them and further preventing the applicant from enjoying his right as established in the court.

“It is accordingly ordered that the respondent is sentenced to 90 days imprisonment with labour until full compliance by the respondent.

“The term of imprisonment shall be wholly suspended on condition that the respondent fully complies with the court orders mentioned above. This order shall itself constitute and serve as a writ for the arrest, detention and lodging the respondent to prison,” ruled Justice Tsanga.

In a bid to save the minister from arrest, the Attorney-General, through law officer Mr Joseph Mumbengegwi, rushed to lodge an appeal at the Supreme Court contesting the High Court decision.

Meanwhile, in another case involving the same businessman, Minister Chombo has recently been given a 14-day ultimatum to pay $1,5 million or risk imprisonment.

Mr Mangwiro’s cash was seized by police and held as an exhibit, but when the matter was finalised the money could not be accounted for. He then approached the court seeking reimbursement and several court orders were granted in his favour, but Minister Chombo allegedly persistently refused to budge.

In an application for a mandamus order filed last month, Mr Mangwiro said he was further seeking costs of suit on a higher scale, accusing the minister of deliberately being contemptuous of court orders. In the $78 000 case that resulted in the contempt of court order, Mr Mangwiro was charged with theft and tried by a regional court.

When he was acquitted on January 18, 2013, police had unlawfully and procedurally released the $78 900 seized from Mr Mangwiro and Z$46 135 000 000 to one Andre Nsaka Nsaka.

The cash and some motor vehicles, were in fact, not exhibits before the regional court and that there was no basis for them to be released to that person.

Mr Mangwiro then applied for the release of his cash. Using the prevailing Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe rates, the Zimbabwe dollar component of Z$46 135 000 000 was converted to US$1 537 833.

The High Court initially ordered the minister to pay back the $78 900 but did not issue an order in respect of the Zimbabwe dollar component.

Mr Mangwiro appealed to the Supreme Court which, ruled that he must also be paid in United States dollars but referred the matter back to the High Court for quantification.

The High Court then agreed with Mr Mangwiro and ordered the minister to pay US$1,5 million on top of the US$78 900.

In a notice of appeal filed by Minister Chombo yesterday after his conviction and sentence, the lawyers argued that the Government official was never served with the contempt of court application.

“The learned judge in the court a quo grossly misdirected herself in refusing to accept an affidavit from the appellant which testified to the fact that he was never served with the application for contempt of court filed by respondent against him in case number HC5970/16.

“The learned judge in the court a quo grossly misdirected herself in finding appellant guilty of contempt of court and sentencing him to a term of imprisonment on the basis of a challenged return of service filed by the Sheriff to the effect that appellant was duly served with the application for contempt of court, and on the further basis that appellant was barred from making submissions in facie curiae that he was not so duly served,” reads part of the notice of appeal.

The AG wants the Supreme Court to refer the matter back to the High Court to allow the parties to lead evidence to establish whether or not the minister was duly served with the application.