Chief Court Reporter
Mtetwa and Nyambirai law firm has approached the Supreme Court seeking to overturn an interim High Court judgment that stopped the firm from using US$57 000 cash found in its strong room during an unrelated investigation into theft of trust funds and which another law firm, Rugwandi and Rujewa, believes is its money.
The law firms are embroiled in a legal wrangle over the pile of the cash, which police stumbled upon while investigating the alleged theft of trust funds by the then accountants clerk at Mtetwa and Nyambirai.
It is agreed that the money was placed in the strongroom by this accounts clerk, Tendai Murambizi, and Mtetwa and Nyambirai want to use the money to offset what they are owed by Murambizi. Rugwandi and Rujewa, whose principal was a former professional assistant at Mtetwa and Nyambirai, say they asked Murambizi to keep their cash secure.
Eventually the High Court will sort out who the money belongs to, but in an interim order in March the High Court stopped Mtetwa and Nyambirai from disbursing the money pending the final decision made when everyone has argued their point. Essentially, the High Court ruled that the money that was found in the strongroom at Mtetwa and Nyambirai law firm could not be used until the circumstances under which the money was brought to the firm are resolved.
Unhappy with the decision, Mtetwa and Nyambirai approached the Supreme Court on appeal and asked the court to reverse the anti-dissipation order granted against their law firm.
The three-judge appeal panel of Justice Chinembiri Bhunu, Justice Joseph Musakwa and Justice Hlekani Mwayera yesterday heard the appeal and reserved judgment to a later date.
Police found the cash while investigating the theft of trust funds by Murambizi. He claimed to have placed the money in the strongroom for safekeeping at the behest of Rugwandi and Rujuwa.
Senior partner of Mtetwa and Nyambirai, Ms Beatrice Mtetwa, allegedly threatened to use the money to offset what her law firm is owed by Murambizi.
This sparked the legal wrangle which then spilled into the High Court and Justice Catherine Bhachi-Muzawazi granted the application stopping Mtetwa and Nyambirai disposing off the money until the dispute between the firms is determined. The ruling meant the cash pile would be kept intact until the court rules who is the owner.
In her judgment, she said that Mtetwa and Nyambirai law firm could not set-off a debt owed between two parties on money belonging to a third party not privy to the credit agreement.
They knew the money was entrusted to Murambizi, and in any case any claim to set off such money must have the amount claimed as legally recoverable.
The judge found no prejudice to Mtetwa and Nyambirai by an interim judgment, saying Rungwandi and Rujuwa were simply stating that they sought safe custody in the strong room although without the knowledge and consent of Mtetwa and Nyambirai.
The cash was placed in the strongroom by Murambizi, who was then the custodian of the keys and all the money kept at the firm, at the request of Mr Mark Rujuwa.
The row over ownership arose in the seperate investigation following Murambizi going on vacation leave on February 22 this year.
It was discovered that he had been allegedly misappropriating trust funds deposited in his care, the police were told and he was arrested on February 25.
During police investigations, Murambizi handed over the cash found in his possession at his house as well as the rest of the partnership property that was in his possession.
Of the property he handed over to the law firm, from the strongroom and safe, in the presence of the police, was the US$57 000, the subject of the controversy, reportedly neatly wrapped and isolated from the rest of the trust funds in the safe.
It was during that process of handover counting that Murambizi advised the law firm’s authorities that money belonged to Mr Mark Rujuwa.