The trial of a top ally of Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on terrorism charges has been adjourned to January next year after a key prosecution witness failed to attend court.
Roy Bennett, a senior official in Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party who was nominated deputy agriculture minister, was arrested in February on charges of illegal possession of weapons for terrorism, banditry and insurgency.
Bennett denies the charges, which the MDC says are politically motivated to keep him out of the unity government formed with President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
The charges carry a death penalty upon conviction.
The MDC says Mugabe is frustrating efforts to swear in Bennett, along with other senior MDC officials, as required by a political agreement signed last year between the rival parties.
Arms dealer Peter Hitschmann, a state witness prosecutors allege was paid by Bennett to buy weapons to assassinate government officials, was not present to take to the stand on Friday, prompting the adjournment.
Hitschmann was acquitted of terrorism charges in 2006 but served jail time for possessing dangerous weapons including six sub-machine guns and two machine guns which have also been produced in Bennett’s trial.
Police say Hitschmann implicated Bennett in the procurement of the arms, but Bennett’s lawyers argue that the gun dealer had been tortured into making that submission.
"He (Hitschmann) did not come because we thought he would not (be required to) take to the witness stand. This is a situation we did not anticipate," Zimbabwe’s attorney-general Johannes Tomana, leading the prosecution team, told the court.
"The way forward is to adjourn to the next available date."
Presiding judge, Chinembiri Bhunu, set Jan. 12 as the date for the continuation of the trial. The High Court’s judicial year ended last week and the court resumes sitting on Jan. 11.