THE recent conviction of top officials from the Department of Immigration on corruption charges could just be the tip of the iceberg, as the department reels from several accusations of malpractice.
BY NQABA MATSHAZI
Two officials with the department, Godfrey Kondo and Fenia Aisam, were recently convicted for stealing cash and property worth US$40 000, after they failed to hand over jewellery, which the two officials had taken from a family while conducting their investigations.
They accused the Pakistani family of human trafficking.
Kondo, who had been slapped with a five-year jail term with three years set aside on condition of good behaviour, was recently freed after his lawyer successfully applied for his bail pending appeal.
A number of foreigners in Zimbabwe have voiced their disquiet about immigration officials, whom they accused of demanding bribes from them.
They alleged that failure to comply with their demands resulted in them being incarcerated and eventually deported.
Foreigners confided that some officials from the Department of Immigration waylaid them and demanded bribes of between US$500 and US$1 500, failure of which the non-citizens would be accused of several crimes, particularly human trafficking.
“If you do not give them the money, you are in trouble. they usually patrol at night,” said one foreigner, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals.
Kondo and Aisam, for example, threatened to charge the Pakistanis with human trafficking.This was not the first time Kondo had been implicated in demanding bribes from foreigners.
An association of Nigerians has also accused him of demanding money from them.
The association last year wrote to their embassy, imploring that the country’s foreign affairs ministry intervenes to stop their perceived persecution.
“Almost any Nigerian caught without valid papers are [sic] forced to pay the sum of US$1 000 as bribe,” reads part of the letter.
“Lastly, we appeal that Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs should invite the leaders of Nigerian community to hear more of this revelation from us.”
The association, Nigerians in Zimbabwe, charged that when they were granted permits to reside in the country, they were charged between US$1 000 and US$4 000, which was refundable.
But the money was never refunded when people were deported, they claimed.
Allegations difficult to prove—ZACRO
Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro) official, Elisha Chidombwe said despite learning of accusations of corruption by the Immigration Department, these were often difficult to prove.
“Such allegations can be made, but usually no tangible proof is brought forward,” Chidombwe, whose organisation helped repatriate 147 prohibited immigrants last year, said.
He said investigations had revealed that a number of Nigerians were using their residency in Zimbabwe as a cover for illegal activities.
He said they were the ones most likely to offer bribes.
Foreigners thrown behind bars for frivolous crimes
A magistrate recently ordered the release of a Nigerian footballer, Uneke Afamefuna Chukwunonso, who was arrested when he tried to renew his visa.
The magistrate described the immigration officials who arrested Chukwunonso as overzealous.
“This is a genuine case of ignorance on law by the immigration department,” the magistrate charged.
“The visa is still valid and failure to renew his permit is not a reason to arrest him. Instead, they were supposed to ask him to pay a fine. He was arrested by overzealous immigration officers who thought there was a case against him.”
However, a number of other foreigners are not so lucky and instead find themselves in Zimbabwe’s prisons without committing any crimes, simply because they failed to pay bribes.
A Ugandan inmate at Harare Central Remand Prison recently claimed that Immigration officials said they had lost his passport and could not release him until they found it.
He suspects that his passport will not be found until he has paid a bribe, which he says he cannot pay as he is behind bars.
Spokesperson for the Department of Immigration, Patricia Mafodya said her department had zero tolerance for corruption.
“We do not tolerate corruption, we have zero tolerance. We urge anyone with such information to come forward,” she said.