More charged on coup plots

HARARE – Three white Zimbabwean farmers and businessmen accused of training bandits to topple President Robert Mugabe's government were yesterday denied bail by the High Court in Harare, amid reports of Zanu PF plan to rid off all white people from Zimbabwe.\r\n

And stunning details emerged in court that the main witness in the case against them has been trying for years to seize the property of one of the farmers.

Maxwell Mavhunga, a lawyer representing John Vigo Naested, Bryan Michael Baxter and Angus John Thompson, said after the High Court hearing that Justice Alfias Chitakunye had ruled that the three should remain incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, as they were likely to interfere with witnesses if granted bail.

They are now expected to appear in the magistrate’s court on March 3, but the lawyer said they would appeal to the supreme court.

The lawyer also revealed that Naested, who runs a training facility for Boy Scouts known as Tree of Life Adventures, is seriously ill and is in the intensive care unit at the Avenues Clinic in Harare.

He is suffering from an undisclosed illness and was said to have been operated on yesterday to save his life after having spent more than a month in the notorious Chikurubi prison.

The three, who own three small adjourning plots in the Ruwa area, about 30km from Harare, are being charged with recruiting or training insurgents, bandits, saboteurs or terrorists on Naested’s plot.

At the time of their arrest on January 5, they were accused of training the bandits on behalf of the Movement for Democratic Change to topple Mugabe.

But in court documents, the men have described a deadly plan to plant charges on the three by Joseph Banda, a well- connected former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe security boss, who since 1996 has tried, but failed, to invade Baxter’s farm.

Banda invaded the plot after the arrest of the owner.

It has also emerges that before the three were arrested, Baxter’s plot, which is opposite the training camp, had been raided five times by police at the instigation of Banda.

In the past Banda has even used violence to try to oust Baxter from the farm but has been barred by the courts.

The three also claim that police have not taken action for his violence against Baxter because of his connections in the country’s top security structures.

According to the court papers, Banda took advantage of the arrest of the three to invade the plot, where his workers are said to be harassing and threatening Baxter’s wife to vacate the premises.

"It is incisive to note that all the five raids were at the instigation of Joseph Banda, who intends to take over the second applicant’s (Baxter) plot. He has employed violent means in his bid to take over the plot, but all have failed.

"He has made several death threats to Baxter and his family, and on one occasion, he assaulted the second applicant (Baxter) and damaged his car," reads the defence outline.

The trio’s lawyer has dismissed the state’s case against his clients as "false and malicious" and argued that their arrest was initiated only so that Banda would take one of the farms.

"Right now, Banda’s people have invaded Baxter’s plot, and it is disturbing to find out that he is the same guy who is the key witness. He is the one who reported the matter and he is also acting as an investigating officer.

"There is no evidence whatsoever to link the three old men to banditry," the lawyer said.

He added that, so far, no other witnesses had been identified.

Neighbours also said it was surprising to hear that the three were training bandits when they have never heard a single gunshot in the five years the Tree of Life Adventures has been in existence. – Independent Foreign Service