FORMER Finance minister Ignatius Chombo, who is facing a plethora of charges ranging from fraud, criminal abuse of office and corruption, yesterday made a constitutional application for a declaratory order for a stay of execution.
By Kudzai Kuwaza
Chombo, a powerful and untouchable minister under the toppled former president Robert Mugabe regime, was abducted from his home during the military takeover code-named “Operation Restore Legacy” last November before being taken to court after being detained for more than a week. Citing the National Prosecuting Authority, the Prosecutor-General and the Attorney-General of Zimbabwe as respondents, Chombo, through his lawyer Lovemore Madhuku, applied for a stay of prosecution, arguing his rights had been infringed by the State. “I am making this constitutional application in terms of section 85(1)(a) of the constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013, seeking a declaration by this honourable court in exercise of its jurisdiction in terms of section 171(1)c) of the constitution,” Chombo wrote in his application.
The former minister said a number of his rights had been violated, which include the right to personal liberty as espoused in section 49 of the constitution, the right to be informed of the reason why he was being arrested as protected by section 50 of the constitution, the right to be treated humanely and with dignity while under arrest and right to personal security protected by section 52(a) of the constitution.
Chombo said other rights infringed are the right not to be subjected to physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, protected by section 53 of the constitution, as well as the right to the equal protection and benefit of the law, protected by section 56(1) of the constitution. “As an appropriate relief in respect of the aforesaid infringements, I am seeking an order permanently staying my criminal prosecution,” Chombo said.
“The background facts are common cause. I say so because this Honourable Court accepted the facts during my bail appeal in B 1527/17. In Judgment No. HH 196/18, the Honourable Justice Mushore carefully summarised the relevant facts. The State, represented by the 1st and 2nd Respondents, did not appeal. I am advised that the narration by the Honourable Justice Mushore can no longer be questioned in this Court.”
In her ruling, Justice Mushore had said that during his detention by the military, Chombo had been denied basic rights enshrined in the constitution such as access to justice and presumption of innocence.
In particular, she said Zimbabweans needed to know they “can sleep at night without the fear of arbitrary detention in secret locations beyond the reach of lawyers or family”.
“The public in Zimbabwe needs to know that they have a right to access to justice,” she said.
In the application yesterday, Chombo narrated his ordeal when he was abducted by the army from his home on November 15 last year.
“At around 1am in the morning of the 15th of November 2018, I was awoken by loud noise. My wife woke up and wanted to establish what had happened. After some moments, a second explosion occurred. Immediately thereafter, I heard crackling sounds at the kitchen door area, and then footsteps in the roof area. The door in the bedroom to where we were was knocked down. I saw men in military uniform. They came and told me to lie down and a gun was pointed to my head. The same was told to my wife and housemaid,” Chombo revealed.
“I was told to get up. I was then blindfolded using a T-shirt by pulling it over my head. I was then handcuffed, and other men started pushing and they later pushed me through a broken window. I fell on the pavement and was badly bruised on my right elbow. My trousers were torn. In the process of moving, the handcuff unlocked and they refastened tightly.”
Chombo said he was rushed out barefooted in the rain and force-marched through the yard and made to walk on top of the metal gate that was now on the floor.
“We made a left turn and they continued to push me and made me run. I fell once again and they dragged me up. I was then pushed and forced into a lorry,” Chombo narrated. “While in the lorry, I was placed in between the seats. I was made to lie down, at the time the corrugated floor of the lorry was wet and muddy. Three men secured me by stepping on my legs, others on the midriff area and another was stepping on my head.”
He said that after about a 45-minute drive, the truck stopped where his watch was removed for fear that it could have a tracker. He added that he is yet to recover it.
Chombo said he was blindfolded during the entire period of his incarceration which left him disoriented, making him lose his bearings as he could not tell whether it was day or night. He revealed that he was only allowed to remove the blindfold when bathing.
“The blindfolding was consistent. I would eat food, including fish, while blindfolded,” Chombo said.
“During the time there, I was persistently interrogated on more than five occasions in a day by different people who all sounded male. They would want to know how I ran the Ministry of Finance. They accused me of abusing my power in that ministry by not giving money to the army. They claimed that I preferred the police and wanted to know the reasons for my alleged preference of the police. I explained that I was a few weeks on the job and had not done the budget.”
The former Finance minister, also once in charge of home affairs, was also quizzed why he had exonerated former Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo over the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund scandal, how he ran Zanu PF as the party’s secretary for administration, as well as about his relationship with former president Robert Mugabe, among other issues.
“During my interrogation while blindfolded, the person guarding me would come in and identify himself as my ‘mother’ and on another day as my ‘father’, they would then ask me how I was doing and how my stay was. This was particularly traumatic for me, because both of my parents had passed away,” Chombo revealed.
Chombo said that after nine days, he was told to pack and that he was about to leave. Chombo said he was blindfolded once again and driven close to his place of residence.
“Upon getting close to my place of residence, the blindfold was removed for purposes of enabling me to direct them accordingly,” he said.
Chombo pointed out that he was then arrested on arrival at his residence and later taken to court on the charges he is facing.