Accused gold-smuggler Henrietta Rushwaya has been granted bail of $100 000 coupled with strict movement restrictions.
Her trial is likely to open as soon as the courts resume normal operations when the risk of Covid-19 infection recedes. Investigators yesterday said they had completed their work.
Rushwaya will be tried on charges of gold smuggling, illegal possession of gold and bribery arising from her arrest on 26 October last year at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport when four bars of gold weighing 6kg were found in the bag she was carrying to take with her on a flight to Dubai. She is jointly charged with businessman Ali Muhammad and two CIO officers accused of helping her through the VIP route at the airport.
Rushwaya applied yet again for bail on the grounds of changed circumstances, listing three changes: the present tighter level four national lockdown that makes it very difficult for her to travel and so abscond, that the police have now checked her home for evidence over the mistake she made with a bag, and which is the foundation of her defence, and the fact that her health has been poor in remand prison and she suspects she may have Covid-19.
Although the State continued to oppose bail, citing the risk that she might abscond, Harare magistrate Mr Ngoni Nduna agreed her circumstances had changed and granted her new application.
He ordered her to deposit $100 000 bail, barred her from travelling nearer than 20km to any border and ordered her to report three times a week at a police station until January 31. The reporting times thereafter will be every Wednesday.
In response to Rushwaya’s application, Mr Charles Muchemwa for the State, announced that the prosecution was now ready to proceed with trial as soon as the Covid-19 restrictions were sufficiently lifted. At present courts are only handling remands, bail matters and urgent applications.
“Investigations in the matter have sufficiently progressed well. The accused’s bribery allegations are now ready for trial. The State is just awaiting for the Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted to proceed to trial.
“We have also covered sufficient ground in the investigation of the smuggling case and the case involving the unlawful possession of gold cases.”
Mr Muchemwa said the State has established the link between Rushwaya and Ali Muhammad, whom she is jointly charged with, and that the State had a strong case against her, which warrants her detention pending trial.
He said Rushwaya failed to disclose the disease she was suffering from, making it difficult to accept her condition without a medical report.
In her fresh bail application made through her lawyers, Tapson Dzvetero and Peter Patisani, Rushwaya said circumstances had changed since the time she was denied bail.
“The first circumstance which has been discovered is that the Government has pronounced a new Statutory Instrument 10/2021 which effectively imposes a (tighter level four) national lockdown, whose import is that it restricts movement of people and such measures are imposed by law enforcement personnel in the country.
What has therefore changed is that the imposition of a national lockdown will make sure that the applicant will not freely move, and thereby the risk of abscondment is curtailed.
“The second circumstance which has arisen after the determination of the initial bail application is that the police have conducted investigations in respect of the applicant’s sole plausible defence.
The applicant during the bail proceedings averred that her sole plausible defence to the charge of smuggling was that she had mistakenly taken the wrong bag to the airport, which contained the gold instead of the one which had her personal utensils and belongings which she left at home.
“The police did not endeavour to investigate this issue for the whole lengthy duration of the bail proceedings up to the determination, but however, the police have since acted on the applicant’s plausible defence by removing the applicant from remand prison on 9 December 2020 after the determination on bail had since been made and have proceeded to her homestead where they indicated that they needed to see the bag she had mistakenly left at home instead of the one carrying gold and she proceeded to show them the bag,” she said.
Rushwaya said the change in the circumstances was that police conducted their investigations and have since recorded witness statements.
She claimed that her health was deteriorating in remand prison and that she was showing symptoms related to Covid-19.
In his ruling, Mr Nduna said the court noted changes in her circumstances that warranted her freedom, albeit under stringent conditions.