Airzim trial: Witness demands $20 000

PETER-CHIKUMBA550Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
A State witness in the Air Zimbabwe multi-million-dollar insurance scandal, Mr Bhudhama Chikamhi, has demanded $20 000 from the airline for testifying and assisting the prosecution in building a strong case against Grace Pfumbidzai and Peter Chikumba.

However, defence lawyers said this was tantamount to soliciting for a bribe to nail the suspects.

Mr Chikamhi, a chief forensic investigator with BCA Consulting Services is the fourth State witness in the trial in which former company secretary Pfumbidzayi and former group chief executive officer Chikumba are being accused of defrauding the airline of €5 175 593 and $502 748 in an alleged insurance scam.

He openly told the court that he “does” not come to court cheap and that he was entitled to the $20 000.

However, in terms of Section 239 (1) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, allowances for testifying in court are only paid by the State and not by any parties or individuals.

The section reads:

“Subject to this Section, any court or magistrate may order the payment of an allowance in accordance with the prescribed tariff to any person attending a trial or other criminal proceedings . . .”

Advocate Webster Chinamhora, who was being instructed by Mr Andrew Muvirimi of Muvirimi and Associates, suggested under cross-examination of the witness, that the $20 000 claim was unlawful and that it amounted to demanding money to testify in a manner favourable to the airline.

He said Air Zimbabwe had no duty to meet such costs.

The $20 000 claim dated November 4, 2014 that was produced in court as an exhibit reads:

“Enclosed, please find our fee note in respect of assistance offered to the members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, public prosecutors and attendance to court as expert witnesses. We will be billing the airline as and when we spend more time . . .”

BCA indicated in the claim that its two officers spent a combined 151,5 hours assisting the State at court which cost $17 500 plus Value Added Tax amounting to $2 625.

Asked by the defence on the tariff that he used in coming up with the figure, Mr Chikamhi said; “I charge what I value myself because I do not come cheap”.

It also came out in the trial that Mr Chikamhi’s company also conducted some forensic audit for Air Zimbabwe and billed the airline $370 000.

Air Zimbabwe, the court heard, has since paid $284 000, leaving a balance of $114 000. During the same trial a letter authored by former secretary for Transport and Infrastructural Development Mr Partson Mbiriri, was produced in which he confirmed that Air Zimbabwe planes flew without insurance cover between January and March 2009.

The letter to the Ministry of Finance dated March 26, 2009, stated that Air Zimbabwe was betrayed by its local insurer ZIMRE, which did not quickly disclose to the airline that insurance had been cancelled.

ZIMRE, which was now on the sanctions list, failed to remit insurance to an international insurer Willis, but kept it a secret until it was discovered two months later.

Pfumbidzayi (49) and Chikumba (59), jointly charged with criminal abuse of duty as public officers and fraud, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In her defence outline tendered in court Pfumbidzayi argued that the placement of insurance with the international markets was for the benefit of the State and the nation at large in a time of emergency without going through the cumbersome tender procedures.

Chikumba in his defence said the allegations were malicious, frivolous and vexatious.

“Air Zimbabwe Holdings (Pvt) Ltd is being abused and misused by powerful politicians in a bid to drag my name into alleged clandestine transactions such that I lose my right to claim my terminal benefits,” he said.

The prosecutor Mr Daniel Muchimbiri, appeared for the State while Mr Admire Rubaya of Rubaya, Chatambudza and Associates defended Chikumba.