LAWYERS representing three white commercial farmers facing allegations of training bandits have told the High Court that weapons seized by state security agents from the accused were sporting firearms.
John Vigo Naested, Bryan Michael Baxter and Angus John Thompson were arrested on June 6, three days after about 370 police, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) officers and army personnel, which included two helicopters and civilian vehicles, raided their plots in Acturus on allegations that they were recruiting and training bandits.
The plots are used as an outdoor adventure camp known as Kudu Creek.
The security agents recovered firearms from the accused and the farmers appeared in the magistrates’ court in Harare on January 9 and were denied bail.
The state alleges that between February 2003 and January 2009, “the accused recruited and assisted or encouraged some MDC-T youths to undergo training with the intention of committing acts of insurgency banditry, sabotage or terrorism in Zimbabwe”.
In an application for bail at the High Court, the farmers’ lawyers – Mavhunga & Sigauke and Coghlan, Welsh & Guest – said the recovered firearms were not for military training as alleged by the state.
“The firearms that were recovered in the possession of the first applicant (Naested) are not military firearms but are sporting firearms,” reads the application. “There is no evidence that links the use of these sporting firearms to the alleged military training.”
Most of the firearms, the lawyers said, were “fully licenced”.
“The state also alleges that they recovered five firearms from the second applicant (Baxter). It is important to note that all these rifles are purely sporting ones and cannot be used for military training. It boggles the mind why sporting rifles would be used in alleged military training when there are suitable military guns,” the bail application reads.
Baxter told the lawyers that a former Reserve Bank employee – Joseph Banda – instigated the raid at the farmers’ plots in an attempt to take over the properties.
Baxter said the raid was the fifth in four years.
“It is incisive to note that all the five raids were at the instigation of Joseph Banda, a former employee of the Reserve Bank who intends to take over the second applicant’s (Baxter’s) plot,” the lawyers said.
The lawyers said Banda last year approached Baxter with a copy of the Government Gazette and an offer letter and asked the farmer to vacate his plot because it had jointly been allocated to him and the CIO who wanted to turn the farmhouse into their headquarters.
“The second applicant (Baxter) had to look for assistance from Honourable Governor (Aeneas) Chigwedere who advised him that the offer letter was false. Since then he (Banda) has employed violent means in his bid to take over the plot, but all have failed,” the lawyers said in the bail application.
Banda was accused of making several death threats against Baxter and his family and on December 27 2008 it was alleged that he handcuffed and assaulted with an iron bar the farmer’s employee identified only as Alois.
The lawyers said their client was reliably informed that Banda would be the key state witness.
The lawyers argued that the accused should be granted bail on the basis that they were of advanced age, have no previous convictions and have no pending cases in the jurisdiction or outside and that allegations against them are weak.
“The three applicants are owners of the properties on which they live and they are all family men. They are patriotic and law-abiding citizens who have never considered to migrate despite the obvious current hardships facing the nation today,” the application read.
The state is opposing bail on the grounds that Naested, Baxter and Thompson were facing serious charges of which if convicted would face two life imprisonment terms that would induce them to abscond and also they might interfere with investigations or witnesses.
The lawyers narrated how the farmers’ properties were raided.
Naested, Baxter and Thompson were raided at around 2am on January 3 in a “predawn swoop by roughly 370 policemen, CIO and army personnel which included two helicopters and civilian vehicles”.
The applicants said the raid lasted from 2am to 3pm on Sunday and Naested and Baxter were asked to accompany the police to Harare Central police station for questioning and were later released the same day.
On January 6, the farmers were arrested between 1am and 3am and detained at Braeside, Highlands and Borrowdale police stations in the capital.
“The applicants were then later held incommunicado from their lawyers until they appeared at the courts at 1730 hours on January 9,” the lawyers said.
The farmers, the lawyers said, handed over to the police videos of activities that took place at the Naested plot as well as indemnity forms signed by parents of children from St Johns High, Sharon School, Bishopslea, Ariel in Ruwa, Lilford in Nyabira, Lomagundi college, Chisipite and Convent schools.
Some of the courses taken included leadership for eight to 10 year olds, rope courses, rock and mountain climbing, building courses, canoeing and tree identification. The High Court is set to hear the application today.
BY WONGAI ZHANGAZHA