Fidelis Munyoro, Harare Bureau
Supreme Court judge Justice Francis Bere is under investigation over allegations of conflict of interest in a ruling he made in the more than $2 million consultancy dispute between Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Meikles Limited and Widefree Investments.
Widefree is linked to industrialist Mr Joseph Kanyekanye, a long standing client of Bere Brothers, a law firm founded by the judge.
Chief Justice Luke Malaba ordered investigations into alleged violation of judicial ethical conduct by Justice Bere after Meikles executive chairman Mr John Moxon filed a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that Justice Bere was conflicted in giving a ruling against Meikles under Case Number SC 503/18.
Chief Justice Malaba chairs the JSC.
Meikles, which entered into a consultancy agreement with Widefree Investments trading as Core Solutions in December 2013, lost the case both at the High Court and Supreme Court.
The obligation of the agreement was that Core Solutions would assist Meikles in recovering funds it was owed by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Chief Justice Malaba acknowledged receipt of the complaint against Justice Bere, saying it raised issues relating to ethical conduct of the imputed judge and ordered investigations into his conduct.
“We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated September 20, 2018 addressed to Honourable Chief Justice, which has been referred to the Chief Justice for response,” read the letter dated September 28 2018 and signed by Ms Anita Tshuma, the registrar of the Constitutional and Supreme Court.
“The Chief Justice has requested us to inform you that your complaint raises issues relating to the ethical conduct of the judicial officer concerned, which will need to be investigated by the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.
“You will be advised of the outcome of the investigations once they have been completed.”
In a letter he wrote to Chief Justice Malaba in September last year, Mr Moxon said he had information of Mr Kanyekanye’s links with Justice Bere.
“Information, however, has come to my attention that gives rise to the suspicion that conditions under which our Supreme Court case was heard do not meet the very high standards of impartiality and integrity that are associated with that court,” he said.
He said information in the public domain showed that in 2013 when Kanyekanye appeared at Mutare magistrates’ courts on criminal charges he was represented by Bere Brothers.
Mr Moxon disclosed that Bere Brothers were advising Mr Kanyekanye’s Core Solutions in a dispute that the company had with the Government over payment of funds to their client, a South African-based company.
“This information is of serious concern to us at Meikles as it raises the question of impartiality of our courts in the Core Solutions matter,” he said.
“It is my understanding that judges when faced with matters where conflict of interest might be inferred such as the one cited are obliged to recuse themselves. In this instance, Justice Bere did not do so.”
Mr Moxon said he did not seek to cast aspersions against a judge of the Supreme Court, but in his view the relationship between Justice Bere and Bere Brothers was one that would have made it imperative for him not to be involved in a matter where Core Solutions was a party.