MDC-T SENATOR and deputy Agriculture minister-designate Roy Bennett (pictured) was Thursday slapped with a fresh charge of illegally possessing maize in 2001 — a move his lawyers said reflected state desperation in building a case against him.Bennett, who had just arrived at Harare’s High Court for a ruling on whether he should be discharged or put on his defence in the ongoing treason trial, was shocked when plain clothes policemen from the Criminal Investigation Department, Chipinge, served him the summons for the new charge.
After the state closed its case earlier in March, the defence led by lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa applied for discharge of Bennett arguing that the state had failed to provide evidence to support the allegations it had raised against him.
According to the summons served on Bennett yesterday and seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, the lawmaker must appear in court on April 6 for contravening provisions of the Grain Marketing Board Act as read with Statutory Instrument 240A of 2001.
The charge against Bennett, according to the summons, is: “That on the 22nd of October 2001 and at Charleswood Estate, Chimanimani, Roy Lesley Bennett wrongly and unlawfully was found in possession of 92 289 metric tonnes of maize which he did not declare to the authorities in terms of the Act.”
Mtetwa expressed disgust as to why it took the state nine years to prosecute Bennett over the allegation.
Mtetwa said: “This is the usual harassment by the state. They were anticipating that he would be acquitted and now they serve him with this. It is like instalment of prosecution. These allegations arose in 2001, why had they not been prosecuting him all along? What of his rights to an early hearing?”
Bennett said he was shocked when he was served with the summons and was not sure as to what the state really wanted to prove against him.
He said: “This is absolutely preposterous. The maize was taken from me by the army at gunpoint. The maize was meant to feed my own workers. These were their monthly rations.
“This has really shocked me. It’s painful that they don’t seem to want anyone to survive in Zimbabwe. If they want to remove me from deputy Agriculture minister position and put me somewhere else, I will go. But it is not Zanu PF’s decision to remove me. I can only be removed from that position by (Morgan) Tsvangirai and the MDC party. I am working for my party.”
The MDC-T, in a statement yesterday, said it viewed the latest charge against Bennett as a “contrived political plot to haunt him and prevent him from taking up his post as deputy minister of Agriculture”.
“The latest so-called charge is the height of persecution of a man whose only crime is that he is white and he is MDC. Attorney-General Johannes Tomana has once again proved why he is an outstanding issue,” the party said. “His blatant abuse of office to persecute an innocent man has reached ridiculous heights and there is no wonder why there is a national call for him to be investigated for abuse of office.”
Last week Bennett was reported to have been barred from his former farm Charleswood and detained by police for 30 minutes as he sought to collect personal belongings that included his father’s ashes he had left at the farm when it was seized during the land reform programme.
The MDC-T treasurer, who claimed to have been in possession of a letter from the Agriculture and Rural Development Authority granting him access to the farm, was refused entry by the police.
Meanwhile, Justice Chinembiri Bhunu postponed handing down his ruling on the defence application to May 10.
“I had hoped to give judgment today (yesterday) but the judgment is not yet ready,” Bhunu said. “There had been delays in preparing the transcript and since we have come to the end of the first term of the legal year we have to postpone to the second week of the next term.”
Mtetwa subsequently requested that Bennett’s bail conditions be relaxed as they wait for the passing of the judgment arguing that the state had failed to build a case against her client and that he had no reason to run away.
“My Lord, I request that the accused’s passport be released to him so he can travel if he so wishes and that his reporting conditions be relaxed,” Mtetwa pleaded. “He has religiously come to court and reporting to the police. There is absolutely no likelihood of him absconding. He also wants to clear his name. We therefore request his passport be released and reporting conditions be suspended.”
However, Tomana was of the opinion that Bennett’s bail conditions be “firmed” and not relaxed as the state had a case against him.
Bhunu ruled in favour of Bennett and suspended reporting conditions until May 10. However, he said for the release of his passport the defence had to make a specific application.