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Zimbabwe: Ally of prime minister acquitted of terrorism charges

Roy Bennett, a key ally of Zimbabwe’s prime minister, was acquitted of terrorism charges Monday by a high court judge.

The decision removes one source of friction within Zimbabwe’s troubled unity government, which joins two longtime rivals: the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC. However, many other sources of tension remain between the two ruling parties.

“Having carefully considered the facts, I come to the conclusion that the state has failed to prove a prima facie case,” ruled High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu. “The accused is accordingly found not guilty.”

Bennett had been nominated as deputy agriculture minister but was prevented from being sworn in last year because of the charges.

Tsvangirai, in Washington on Monday for a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, described the decision as “very positive.”

“As I’ve always said, he’s not being prosecuted, he’s being persecuted,” he told reporters before the meeting. “I hope that the persecution has ended.”

However, Tsvangirai said more needed to be done to consolidate the unity government, which was set up after disputed 2008 elections in which Tsvangirai challenged Mugabe for the presidency.

Bennett, 53, a white former farmer pushed off his property during Mugabe’s land redistributions, was arrested in February 2009 on the day the new Cabinet — with ministers from the former ruling party and opposition — was sworn in. His detention nearly derailed the process.

He was charged with plotting to topple Mugabe and accused of fomenting a rebellion between 2002 and 2006 with an arms dealer, Peter Hitschmann.

Hitschmann was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of illegal possession of weapons but was later released after a court accepted his evidence that he made a false confession under torture.

Judge Bhunu said Hitschmann’s confession, the prosecution’s most important piece of evidence in Bennett’s case, was inadmissible. He ruled that the prosecution failed to establish that e-mails between Bennett and Hitschmann were genuine, or that Bennett paid Hitschmann for weapons.

The MDC demanded Monday that Bennett immediately be sworn into office as deputy agriculture minister.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com


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