Zimbabwe court acquits MDC’s Bennett

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Zimbabwe’s High Court acquitted former white farmer Roy Bennett, an ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, of terrorism charges in a ruling that may ease tensions in the fractious unity government.

The charges against Bennett, treasurer-general of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had been a major source of conflict with President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s long-serving ruler.
“The state has failed to prove its case,” Judge Muchineripi Bhunu told a packed courtroom as he dismissed the charges. “The accused is accordingly found not guilty.”

Bennett could have faced the death penalty if found guilty.

Bennett welcomed his acquittal as evidence of independence within the judicial system of the southern African country, which has become a byword for cronyism and economic mismanagement over the last three decades under Mugabe.
“I am very happy,” a relieved Bennett told reporters after the ruling. “This judgement gives hope that we are returning to justice and the rule of law.”

Bennett was arrested in February last year while his MDC colleagues were being sworn in as ministers in the Mugabe-led coalition. He was formally accused of illegal possession of arms for purposes of committing terrorism, banditry and sabotage.

The state’s case — that Bennett planned to fund a 2006 plot to blow up a major communications link and assassinate key government officials — hinged on emails prosecutors said linked the former commercial farmer to the crime.

However, the prosecution was dealt a blow when its chief witness, 49-year-old former policeman and arms dealer Peter Hitschmann, disowned the emails and denied Bennett was involved.

Judge Bhunu said there was no evidence that linked Bennett to the charges and questioned testimony from some of the state witnesses, including a supposed telecommunications expert, whom he said had “amazing ignorance”.

Mugabe has refused to swear in Bennett as deputy agriculture minister until he is acquitted. The dispute is one of the issues being discussed by negotiators from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and MDC in talks mediated by South African President Jacob Zuma.

MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the party expected Bennett, a senator in the upper house of parliament, to be sworn in.
“We have been vindicated. This was not prosecution but persecution,” Chamisa said.
“We are expecting that the natural thing will happen, that we will wake up with Bennett as deputy agriculture minister.”

Source: www.af.reuters.com