Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
The appeal by former Air Zimbabwe chief executive Peter Chikumba and former corporate secretary Grace Pfumbidzayi, who are challenging their conviction and seven-year term of imprisonment imposed on them for criminal abuse of duty will be heard on March 29 at the High Court.
The duo is out of custody pending appeal.
Chikumba was released from prison on $2 000 bail, while Pfumbidzayi was granted $5 000 bail coupled with stringent conditions.
Advocate Webster Chinamhora who is acting for Pfumbidzayi, yesterday confirmed the latest development.
“We have received notice of set down of the appeal of Pfumbidzayi. The appeal has been set for 29 and 30 March,” said Adv Chinamhora. “We have filed our heads of argument and we are yet to receive heads of argument for the State.”
Adv Thabani Mpofu who is representing Chikumba could not be reached for comment.
Chikumba fought for his freedom in a hotly contested bail application in the High Court last year.
It took Adv Mpofu to discover an escape hole in the case to secure bail for Chikumba, after his lawyers had tried everything, but without success.
Adv Mpofu argued that the charge Chikumba was convicted of in the lower court could only apply to public officers and his appeal is based on the fact that Air Zimbabwe staff are not public officers.
Justice Joseph Martin Mafusire saw substance in Adv Mpofu’s argument and granted the application. He ruled that a substantial question existed, likely resulting in the setting-aside of the magistrates’ court decision.
“In my view the applicant was not a public officer. In my view, the appeal court is likely to find that the applicant was wrongly convicted,” said Justice Mafusire “But if am wrong on this, the two judges of appeal will correct it.
For now I find the prospects of the applicant’s appeal are free from predictable failure.”
The judge also ruled that Chikumba was not a flight risk and freed him on $2 000 bail.
The other bail conditions include surrendering title deeds of his Borrowdale house, travel restrictions and reporting to police once a week.
In the previous applications, Chikumba was adjudged to be a flight risk, but given the new ground of appeal, Justice Mafusire felt the conviction “is likely to be set-aside on appeal”.
Pfumbidzayi who was being represented by her lawyer Adv Chinamhora, separately made her bail application before another judge Justice Happias Zhou. She was able to demonstrate that her prospects on appeal were high.
Justice Zhou also ruled that Pfumbidzayi was not a flight risk and ordered her to offer more surety, which she did.
She surrendered title deeds to a house in Southerton, Harare , with a market value of $30 000 and another one in Masvingo valued at $25 000 plus a Plot measuring 5, 813 hectares along Lake Mutirikwi valued at $80 000 as surety.
Justice Zhou, further ruled that Section 174 of the Criminal Code under which Pfumbidzayi was charged was not meant to punish public officers for incompetence but for corruptly abusing office to gain something.
It was also the court’s finding that the magistrate erred in taking “absence of exceptional circumstances” warranting the release on bail as requirement in considering bail.
Justice Zhou said it was not a requirement in considering bail, hence the magistrate erred at law. Pfumbidzayi has since filed amended grounds of appeal in which she argues that when she was charged for criminal abuse of duty, she was not a public officer.
Charges against Chikumba and Pfumbidzayi arose after an anomaly was discovered regarding to amounts paid between April 2009 and April 2013 to a company called Navistar Insurance Brokers Private Limited in respect of aviation insurance.