Godfrey Marawanyika/Grace Kombora
THE Supreme Court this week indefinitely suspended the bail application for Finance and Economic Development minister Chris Kuruneri who is facing alleg
ations of externalising foreign currency.
The decision at the country’s highest court was arrived at by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, Justice Luke Malaba and Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza.
Kuruneri’s lawyer, George Chikumbirike, had appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the delay in granting him bail violated his constitutional right.
He argued that the violations were determined by the lapse of time before bringing the applicant to trial.
Chikumbirike argued that his client has not been afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time and “thus his constitutional right to the protection of the law has been infringed and because of that infringement this court should order a permanent stay of prosecution.
“This is a drastic remedy which, because of its nature, is not easily granted unless certain well-defined criteria have been met, this because of the finality with which it brings to criminal proceedings.”
Kuruneri was arrested on April 24 last year on allegations that he had externalised US$500 000, £37 000 and 30 000 euros between 2002 and 2004.
He is also facing a second count of possessing a foreign passport without authorisation.
Kuruneri has argued that the funds he is accused of taking out of the country were earned from his consultancy work outside Zimbabwe.
The courts have denied Kuruneri bail arguing that if he could obtain a passport through the Canadian Embassy “there is no guarantee he may not obtain another passport or travel papers through any other embassy which has not made the necessary undertakings”.
In the latest court session, the state argued that it had not had access to Kuruneri’s application and needed a two-week period to study it.
This week’s application came in the wake of last year’s judgement by Justice Bhunu who in November said the courts had a duty to balance the accused’s interest against those of the state to ensure that the ends of justice were not compromised.
In his ruling, Chidyausiku postponed the case “sine die”, but said the registrar should come up with a court date as soon as possible.
He said their decision took into account that the respondents had not yet had access to the application by Chikumbirike.
He also said the applicant in their view did not file the papers properly.
Chikumbirike had raised concerns on the issue of reasonable time in the context of Section 13 (4) of the constitution.
“It is difficult, if not impossible, to lay down the quantum of time within which it cannot be said, in every case, the lapse of such and such a period means there is a violation of the constitutional right to liberty,” he said.
“…How much less is the next question? The provision of Section 13 (4) relates to the protection of liberty. Its lack of arises from an arrest. It is therefore pertinent to examine relevant statutory provisions which apply when a person has been arrested to determine what the constitution would have meant as reasonable time in the context of Section 13 (4) so as to give the accused a right to his freedom lost upon his arrest.”
He said the period must reflect what the constitution had in mind as the maximum period when an accused can be deprived of his freedom upon his arrest in terms of Section 13 (2) (e), before that freedom may again be lost after the accused is tried within a reasonable time and convicted.
Six relatives of the Finance minister attended Tuesday’s hearing.
Chikumbirike said that the amount of elapsed time was central to the appeal, which he said was entrenched in subsection (4) of Section 13 “is after all a right to release if the accused is not tried within a reasonable time after having been arrested or detained”.