Supreme Court throws out Kagonye appeal Petronella Kagonye

Fidelis Munyoro-Chief Court Reporter

Former Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Petronella Kagonye was properly convicted by a regional magistrate of diverting 20 laptops donated by Potraz to schools in her constituency and the effective 16-month sentence she served was a correct decision, the Supreme Court ruled when it rejected her final appeal against both conviction and sentence.

The appeal was somewhat academic as Kagonye was released from prison in May last year after serving the 16 months minus the standard one third off for good behaviour while behind bars, so served a total of 10 and two thirds months.

But she now retains the criminal record for theft of trust property for life, in effect a corruption conviction considering the circumstances, and has a suspended one year term hanging over her if she commits any crime involving dishonesty for the next few years. 

Kagonye was convicted in June 2022 by regional magistrate Mrs Vongai Guwuriro of diverting 20 laptops donated by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) for schools in her Goromonzi South constituency.

The offence earned her 36 months imprisonment, with 12 months suspended condition of good behaviour when she came out of prison. A further eight months were suspended on the condition she repaid US$10 000, the value of the laptops.

Her first attempt to quash both conviction and sentence, the standard appeal to the High Court failed as that court ruled that the trial magistrate’s decisions for conviction and sentence were both legally solid and could not be interfered with. The only comment that the two judges made was that they thought the sentence could be considered on the lenient side.

Evidence showed that two laptops were given to students at a rally and another to a school for the disabled, but these three out of the 20 were not part agreement with Potraz and there was no evidence that the other 17 had been wrongly distributed to reasonable causes.

Although she had served her time in Chikurubi Women’s Prison, Kagonye still approached the Supreme Court seeking leave for a final appeal against the decisions of the first appeal court and the original trial court.

Her appeal against conviction was based on an argument that she had no intent to steal, so the essential mental element of the charge of theft of trust property was not proved in the trial court, and the appeal against sentence was that even if the conviction stood, the sentence was too harsh.

 She asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the High Court erred in confirming her conviction and sentence, in particular, whether she had the requisite state of mind to commit the crime and secondly, whether the sentence imposed by the trial court ought to have been confirmed by the higher court.

 But Justice Susan Mavangira writing for the three Supreme Court judges who heard this final appeal dismissed the appeal, finding that the original trial court, the magistrate, could not be faulted for disbelieving Kagonye, whose evidence it found to be “filled with inconsistencies” and finding  her guilt had been established beyond reasonable doubt.

So, the High Court could not be faulted for agreeing with the trial court and finding that all the issues raised in the appeal against conviction before it, had been properly decided against her.

“In light of the foregoing analysis, we find that the decision of the court a quo cannot be faulted,” said Justice Mavangira in agreement with Justice George Chiweshe and Justice Samuel Kudya.

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