A year on, ‘forgotten’ Kuruneri still held

Ndamu Sandu/Godfrey Marawanyika

“HE is nowhere nearer getting out than the day he was arrested,” said a prominent Harare lawyer in reference to detained former Finance minister Christopher Kurune

ri.


Kuruneri has spent more than a year in detention since his arrest on charges of externalising foreign currency without central bank authority.

Kuruneri was detained on April 24 last year on charges of violating exchange control regulations and has been battling with the courts for his freedom without success. He has been to the magistrates’ courts, the High Court and the Supreme Court.


The former minister has since lost his seat as the MP for Mazowe West.

Kuruneri goes on trial next month on charges of externalising US$1 million, £37 000 and 30 000 euros. There is no specific jail term for the offence although there is the option of a fine if convicted.


Kuruneri was also charged with breaching the Citizenship Act after he was found in possession of two passports — one Zimbabwean and one Canadian — without the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs.


A bank statement uncovered by police last year revealed that Kuruneri had an account with Absa Bank’s Heerengracht branch in South Africa with a balance of R1, 3 million.


As of May 6, 2004, Kuruneri’s available balance was R1 294 102.

The transaction on the bank statement was for the period between May 1 2003 and May 6, 2004.


The state alleges that Kuruneri externalised the funds to South Africa where he gave the money to Christopher Heyman, the director of Venture Projects and Associates, a company contracted to manage his business in South Africa. This included the reconstruction of one of his properties.


It is the state’s case that part of the money was used to buy a Mercedes Benz valued at R547 734, three residential properties — 38 Sunset Avenue, Llandudno, Cape Town valued at R2,7 million, a house valued at R2,5 million and a R2,5 million flat.


It is alleged that on March 6 2002, Kuruneri unlawfully made the Jewel Bank of Zimbabwe transfer R5,2 million to CB Niland and Partners, his lawyers in South Africa, as payment for the purchase of a property, 17 Apostle Road, Llandudno also in Cape Town. All the properties were registered in the name Choice Decisions 113 Pvt Ltd in which Kuruneri is the sole director.


Charges against Kuruneri arose between 2002 and 2004.


The state further alleges that Kuruneri externalised the funds to finance the construction of a R30 million mansion in Cape Town. However, according to press reports from South Africa, he might end up losing the mansion because of failure to make rates payments on time.


Kuruneri’s lawyer, George Chikumbirike, was this week again writing a letter to the Supreme Court for a set down date.


“I last met him about two weeks ago and he is physically fine, but you can imagine the level of stress he is going through,” Chikumbirike said.

“Right now I am writing a letter to the Supreme Court for the matter to be set down.”


In his defence, Kuruneri said he got the foreign currency from doing consultancy work for a Spanish company, Felipe Solano, and Mobile Systems International of Britain.


Mobile Systems International was one of the losing bidders for a licence in the mobile cellular network in Zimbabwe.


Legal experts this week said Kuruneri had been sacrificed for political purposes.


“He is being sacrificed for political expediency so that Zanu PF is seen to be dealing with corruption,” said constitutional law expert, Lovemore Madhuku.

Madhuku said the delay in bringing Kuruneri to trial was an infringement of his constitutional right.


“He (Kuruneri) is entitled to a fair trial within a reasonable time and the time he has been detained is no longer reasonable,” Madhuku said.


Kuruneri’s arrest last year made him the most senior politician to be caught in President Robert Mugabe’s anti-corruption dragnet.


The crackdown also led to the arrest of the then Zanu PF central committee member, James Makamba, on charges of externalisation, but he was subsequently freed by the courts after paying a fine.


Many bankers were forced to flee the country for fear of arbitrary arrest.

NMB Holdings bosses Julius Makoni, James Mushore, Otto Chekeche and Francis Zimuto sneaked out of the country before the net closed in on them. There were claims then that the arrests were at the instigation of RBZ governor Gideon Gono or at least had his tacit approval.


The others who ran away were Intermarket Holdings founder and chief executive officer Nicholas Vingirai, Barbican Holdings boss Mthuli Ncube and Africa Resources Ltd chairman Mutumwa Mawere.


In denying Kuruneri bail, High Court judge Justice Ben Hlatshwayo last year said he had substantial resources and properties outside the country which he could easily mobilise to skip bail and to live well for the rest of his life.

The former minister has had several of his bail applications turned down by both the magistrates’ courts and the High Court.


The former minister’s hopes for bail were dashed by High Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe in February who ruled that Kuruneri could “not be trusted”.


His hopes for freedom will only be known on May 16 which has been set as the date for his trial.


During his continued detention, he has lost his ministerial post and, according to reports, he might also lose his villa in Cape Town as he has failed to keep up payments in the past 12 months.

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