FORMER Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, who has been giving investigating officers from the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission the run around for the past five days, finally appeared in court yesterday. Mphoko (79), of Douglasdale in Bulawayo, appeared before Provincial Magistrate in charge of Bulawayo, Mr Enias Magate, facing charges of criminal abuse of office as a public officer. He is alleged to have unlawfully instructed some junior police officers to release from detention cells, former Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) acting chief executive, Moses Juma.
Mphoko was remanded out of custody to September 4 on $1 000 bail, ordered to report once a week at the CID Commercial Crimes Divisions in Bulawayo and to surrender his passport as part of the bail conditions. His appearance in court was without the drama and spectacle of the past few days where the former VP first resisted arrest at his home in Douglasdale last Friday and was later involved in a dramatic high speed escape from Zacc officers in the Bulawayo city centre on Monday.
This was all totally unnecessary. Mphoko could have simply co-operated with the Zacc officers who wanted to record a warned and cautioned statement from him instead of seeking to dictate terms of his arrest and prosecution. As a former high ranking Government official and one that was entrusted with huge responsibilities, Mphoko should be well versed with the various statutes and procedures related to the arrest and prosecution of offenders.
From last Friday, the former VP has been resisting arrest and was slowly stretching the patience of ZACC officers who were carrying out their duties in accordance with the law. His behaviour must have left Zimbabweans wondering whether the law is applied selectively depending on one’s station in life.
This is because it was apparent that Mphoko did not want the inconvenience of going through processing, as is standard procedure, by the police before his appearance in court. Earlier this week, his lawyer suggested that the former VP wanted to go straight to court from his home because he “fears being abducted and being injected with a lethal poison” during pre-trial incarceration.
How outlandish and preposterous. How could anyone abduct an inmate from a secure cell in police station teeming with law enforcement agents? We aver that Mphoko wanted special treatment and clearly stated this in his letter to the chairperson of ZACC, Justice Loice Matanda Moyo, on Tuesday.
The letter, written by his lawyer Mr Zibusiso Ncube and copied to President Mnangagwa and the Chief Public Prosecutor in charge of Bulawayo, Ms Nonhlanhla Ndlovu, said Mphoko “requests and proposes that a trial date be set” and “we be furnished with the necessary State papers so that we attend trial without having to deal with pre-trial incarceration”.
“His (Mphoko)’s attendance in court could be secured by serving him with summons to appear in court on the agreed date,” read part of the letter.
Going by events of the past few days where the former VP has resisted arrest twice — first on Friday where he chased ZACC officers from his Douglasdale home and on Monday when he escaped in a dramatic fashion from the same officers who were keen to record a statement from him at a police station in Bulawayo — his actions don’t inspire confidence.
We are therefore inclined to agree with Justice Matanda-Moyo, who said Mphoko, just like any other citizen, should follow the normal procedures. “If anyone is facing a charge, the various procedures apply as in any ordinary person and there is no need for writing letters addressing them to Zacc or anyone. If you are arrested, you simply have to co-operate by going to the police station and they record your warned and cautioned statement and thereafter you proceed to court. That is the proper and normal procedure not the procedure of writing letters,” she said.
Allegations against Mphoko are clear. In 2016, while he was still Vice President, he stormed Avondale Police Station in Harare to release Juma. Mphoko, during that time, threatened to beat up junior police officers at the station if they failed to comply with his demands. Juma was later re-arrested and sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of abuse of office.
According to court papers, on May 6, 2016, Zacc received a report of allegations of fraud and criminal abuse of duty against Zinara officials. Investigations that ensued resulted in the arrest of Davison Norupiri and Juma. The two were charged with criminal abuse of duty and their warned and cautioned statements were recorded on July 12, 2016. After the arrest, Juma and Norupiri were taken to Avondale Police Station on the following day pending their appearance in court.
On the same day at around 6PM, Mphoko, who was at the time the Acting President, stormed the police station and ordered the immediate release of Juma and Norupiri from lawful police custody. The officer-in-charge complied with Mphoko’s order and released the two men before Mphoko drove away with them in his car.
It was stated that Mphoko acted in a manner that was inconsistent with his duties as a public officer. As a law abiding citizen and one that is held in high esteem by Zimbabweans, Mphoko should have co-operated from the onset with law enforcement agents instead of impeding their work and wasting valuable time.
We believe the officers assigned to his case have been extremely patient and respectful of his former office in dealing with the matter. He should have reciprocated that gesture.