October 15, 2004

Morgan Tsvangirai acquitted

A Harare judge has acquitted Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s opposition leader, on charges of treason. "The state has not been able to prove high treason beyond reasonable doubt", said Judge Paddington Garwe. Mr Tsvangirai, president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had been charged in 2002 with plotting to murder President Robert Mugabe and install himself in power in a coup d’etat. If he had been found guilty, he could have faced a maximum penalty of death. Mr Tsvangirai maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and many of the prosecution’s assertions crumbled under cross-examination.
The state’s case centred on three meetings Mr Tsvangirai held in late 2001 with representatives of Dickens Madson, a Canadian political consultancy and lobbying firm, in London and Montreal. Ari Ben Menashe, the firm’s principal and the state’s key witness, testified that Mr Tsvangirai asked for his help in assassinating Mr Mugabe and installing himself as Zimbabwe’s president. Mr Tsvangirai admitted he met Mr Menashe, but denied any of the meetings had to do with a plot of any kind. He maintained Mr Menashe approached the MDC, not the other way around. A clandestine video recording of the men’s third meeting showed the lobbyist, not Mr Tsvangirai, speaking about the "elimination" of Mr Mugabe. Under cross-examination Mr Menashe, who had denied receiving any money from Zimbabwe’s government, admitted he had received payment of US$615.000. George Bizos, the veteran South African lawyer who once defended Nelson Mandela, served as Mr Tsvangirai’s lead counsel. In his closing argument he claimed there was no evidence of an assassination or coup plot, adding that "Menashe lied from start to finish". (Financial Times, London)

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