Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
The High Court ruled yesterday that former Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu must explain himself for authorising payment of US$600 000 as legal fees to a Harare law firm under unclear circumstances.Justice Chinembiri Bhunu overruled an objection by chief law officer Mr Chris Mutangadura who did not want the minister to answer questions on the circumstances under which the money was authorised and released.
The payment of US$600 000 to the law firm cropped up during the fraud trial of former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chief executive Dominic Mubaiwa and Core Mining director Lovemore Kurotwi in which Minister Mpofu is a State witness.
Justice Bhunu said while Minister Mpofu would be cross-examined on the US$600 000, he would not be obliged to respond to self-incriminating questions.
He will also not be compelled to answer questions that could malign his character.
“It is accordingly ordered that the disputed documents be and are hereby admitted subject to the following condition: (a) that the witness shall not be obliged to answer any questions that expose him to self-incrimination.
(b) that the witness shall not be obliged to answer any questions designed to purely malign his character, dignity and integrity before the court has pierced the veil protecting the same,” ruled Justice Bhunu.
Justice Bhunu wanted to strike a balance between the right of the accused person to defend himself by adducing the truth in cross-examination and protecting the integrity and character of the State witness.
It was his finding that the document in question was relevant to the trial as it was authored by Minister Mpofu to the chairpersons of the three mining companies mentioned in the case.
Justice Bhunu deferred the cross-examination to October 6 because Minister Mpofu is out of the country on official business.
It came out during the trial of Kurotwi and Mubaiwa that Minister Mpofu allegedly instructed ZMDC and two other firms to pay US$600 000 to the law firm through a letter copied to chairpersons of the companies.
Half of the payment came from Canadile Miners under protest as the firm argued that not much work had been done for it by the law firm.
Kurotwi and Mubaiwa are accused of defrauding the Government of Zimbabwe of US$2 billion through misrepresentation.
Mr Kurotwi’s lawyer, Mrs Beatrice Mtetwa wanted Minister Mpofu to explain why he instructed the firms to pay the money without delay when he was not sure of the actual work done by the lawyers.
Minister Mpofu said the lawyers had been contracted by the Attorney-General’s Office to do the ministry’s work and he was simply acting on a bill brought to him.
Mr Mutangadura then objected to the defence’s line of questioning, saying the questions were unfair as they were tantamount to invading the lawyer/client confidentiality between Government and its lawyers.
He said the document was privileged and Minister Mpofu should not be asked to comment on it.
He said the issue was not relevant to the trial and that the questioning was spiteful and malicious and smeared the name of Minister Mpofu.
Mr Mutangadura said it was as good as asking Kurotwi how much he had paid Mrs Mtetwa in legal fees.
But Mrs Mtetwa said the issue was relevant and that Minister Mpofu should explain the circumstances under which payment was authorised, for the benefit of the nation.
She submitted that Minister Mpofu had opened the legal shield that protected him from being questioned on matters concerning his character because he had already labelled Kurotwi and Mubaiwa “fraudsters”, “tricksters” and “gangsters” in the same trial.
Kurotwi and Mubaiwa allegedly misrepresented to the Government that Core Mining was a special purpose vehicle for an internationally recognised mining giant, BSGR Group, and that it had the capacity to inject US$2 billion into the diamond mining project in Chiadzwa.
Government then partnered Core Mining and formed a joint venture company called Canadile Miners before it became clear that the company had no relations with BSGR.