Zimbabwe Attorney General Scores Victory In Roy Bennett Case

Peter Hitschmann arrives at Harare High court in Zimbabwe on Thursday last week for the trial of MDC-T Treasurer Roy Bennett, in which he is a key witness for the State. The presiding judge has now ruled that he is a "hostile"witness against the State, allowing Attorney-General Johannes Tomana to cross-examine him in order to discredit his new testimony that the confession upon which Roy Bennett's current prosecution is based was obtained under torture.

Harare, Zimbabwe, 25 January 2010

Zimbabwe's Attorney-General, Johannes Tomana, has managed to get his own main witness declared "hostile"to him by the judge presiding over the ongoing trial of MDC-T Treasurer-General Roy Bennett.

It means that Tomana has managed to score a victory most observers said was unlikely and strengthen the Attorney-General's hand considerably in the trial of the embattled Tsvangirai confidante, Roy Bennett.

Justice Bhunu said that he was impeaching Hitschmann on the basis of his "demeanour", saying he showed that he had "an axe to grind"with the State because of his imprisonment and "absurd statements"while giving evidence in the current trial.

Zimbabwe does not have a jury system. Instead, the verdict is reached by the presiding judge together with two "assessors" after all evidence has been led and all witnesses examined.

This is why this ruling by Justice Chinembiri Bhunu, the judge in Bennett's trial, is so significant. It shows the judge's disposition at this early stage and is also an indication that the judge himself is tending to agree with the prosecution that the witness is changing a statement given freely and implicating Roy Bennett.

It gives a glimpse into the judge sees the case right now and that glimpse is not an encouraging one for Roy Bennett.

By declaring Peter Hitschmann a hostile witness, the judge is effectively saying that he agrees with the Attorney General that the State witness' testimony in court can not be trusted and is not to be taken seriously.

Which leaves the original confession by Hitshmann that he was keeping arms of war on his farm for Roy Bennett the only "credible"evidence and testimony before the court.

It marks a worrying turn of events for Roy Bennett and points to the inevitability of a conviction.

Which, as I have said countless times before on this blog, means that there will also be inevitably an appeal. The purpose of trying Roy Bennett would still have been achieved in the eyes of Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF - to delay the process so much that the Inclusive Government comes to an end before Roy Bennett can be sworn in as Deputy Minister of Agriculture.

If an appeal is made, it would be to the Supreme Court, where there is, right now, a 33 month backlog of cases waiting to be heard.

That would be more than a year of waiting for Bennett from the date of a judgement being passed by Justice Bhunu in his current trial.

As I also said here last year, the balance in this specific trial seems to be shifting towards the State. But nothing is ever as it seems in Zimbabwe.

What I can say with confidence is that Bennett's fate is tied directly to how long the Inclusive Government lasts.

Most reports on this case today are concentrating on the fact that Justice Bhunu has struck down the confession from Hitschmann without examining the implication of allowing the prosecution to treat the witness as hostile.

The allegations of torture that Hitschmann is bringing up now have never been tested in a court of law and the striking down of the confession was simply on the basis that the prosecution could not proceed with its case unless Bhunu allowed them to treat Hitshmann's new testimony in the current as a pack of lies that needed to be exposed through cross-examination.

This is the true significance of this ruling and the reason why, contrary to reports, the ruling favours Tomana more than it favours Bennett.



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