May 23, 2003

No new Commonwealth sanctions / Tsvangirai court proceedings

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has rebuffed attempts by Australia to force the 54-member grouping of former British colonies to apply new sanctions against the Zimbabwe Government at its meeting in London yesterday.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had gone to the meeting with the express intention of presenting what he called "a damning report on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe" to the Commonwealth meeting in London. "We have been somewhat frustrated that the Commonwealth has not been able to build sufficient consensus to take strong action against Zimbabwe," Downer told Australia public radio from London before the meeting. However, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which comprises foreign ministers from Australia, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Malta, Nigeria and Samoa, rejected the Australian resolution.

A similar American resolution to have Zimbabwe condemned by the United Nations Convention on Human Rights was rejected by the world body last month.

In a separate development, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) boss Happyton Bonyongwe revealed yesterday, May 21, that the State security agency destroyed documents relating to the payment of US$30 000 to the government's star witness, Ari Ben-Menashe, for the production of a video-tape forming the basis of treason charges against top leaders of the MDC. Bonyongwe said receipts and invoices from the transaction between the Zimbabwe government and Ben-Menashe were destroyed three months after they were received. He said the destruction of the documents was part of State security regulations.

Bonyongwe made the revelations after George Bizos, the South African advocate leading the defence team in the trial, demanded receipts and invoices for the money paid to Ben-Menashe, a copy of the regulations which provided for the destruction of the documents and the identities of the people who destroyed the papers. The CIO boss refused to produce the copy of the regulations which authorised the destruction of the documents, claiming State security privilege. He would also not reveal the names of the people who destroyed the papers or those of the people who authorised them to do so.

The court took an early adjournment after acting Attorney-General Bharat Patel asked for leave to consult the Minister of State Security, Nicholas Goche, on whether Bonyongwe should be questioned on details of the government's dealings with Ben-Menashe, which Bonyongwe said were privileged. "We will argue that the monies were paid for services rendered and for the production of evidence in an attempt to secure a conviction," Bizos said, referring to the US$30 000 paid to Ben-Menashe to video-tape a meeting at the headquarters of his consultancy firm, Dickens & Madson, attended by the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Ben-Menashe claimed that at the meeting Tsvangirai requested Dickens & Madson's aid in the murder of President Mugabe and the staging of a coup to topple the ZANU PF government. Tsvangirai and his co-accused Welshman Ncube, the MDC's secretary-general, and Renson Gasela, the party's shadow minister for agriculture, have denied the charges. "The motive of Mr Ben-Menashe (for producing the tape) has been articulated by him saying it was for the love of the people of Zimbabwe," Bizos said. "We don't have to accept the say-so of Mr Ben-Menashe. We have to investigate why the money was paid. We hope the Attorney-General and the minister will not issue another certificate to prevent us from questioning the witness on how and why the money was paid."

In February, Goche issued a certificate barring defence lawyers from cross-examining Ben-Menashe on his consultancy contract with the Zimbabwe government. Goche argued that disclosure of details of the contract would "prejudicially affect the security of the State". The trial continues. (The Daily News, Harare / The Herald, Harare)

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