Mahlangu was arrested on Tuesday on allegations of stealing a cell phone belonging to Chinotimba two weeks ago. The MDC MP for Nkulumane is being held at Rhodesville Police Station in Harare.
His lawyer Charles Kwaramba told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that his client was issued the summons in his prison cell. Kwaramba said: “Mr. Chinotimba is claiming in excess of US$19 million for loss of business. He alleges that he lost business during the time he didn’t have his cell phone.”
The lawyer believes the self styled war veteran is’ “playing to the gallery and making sure that the Minister’s image is tarnished as much as possible.”
The allegations are that Mahlangu took Chinotimba’s phone at the Harare International Conference Centre and he is being charged with theft of a cell phone. He denies the charges.
Two women, Geraldine Phiri and Patience Nyoni, who are alleged to be involved in the same case, have been in custody since last week. They are charged with contravening a section of the Telecommunications Act for allegedly using a sim-card without the owner’s permission. The two appeared in court initially on Wednesday.
Kwaramba said he spent the day shuttling between the Attorney General’s office and Harare Central Police after he had been promised that Mahlangu would appear in court on Wednesday, but was given no explanation when this did not happen. The Deputy Minister is now expected to appear in court on Thursday.
Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed on Tuesday that Mahlangu and ‘two of his relatives’ are under arrest in connection with the alleged theft of a cell phone at a function that was held at the HICC.
It is reported the MDC official sat at the same table with Chinotimba during the lunch break, when the latter left his mobile phone on the table while he collected some food, and on returning to the table he could not find his phone. The police reportedly tracked the number with the help of the network provider and arrested a Hwange woman who was using the sim-card. The woman allegedly implicated Mahlangu when she was arrested.
But Mahlangu, through his lawyer, categorically denies the allegations made against him. Kwaramba said: “Obviously there was a misunderstanding, and what has sort of exacerbated the matter is that it is now being blown out of proportion. He (Mahlangu) got the phone from one of his PA’s who picked it up. It had been dropped on the floor. It was picked up by somebody and they handed it over to him thinking that it was his because he has a similar phone. He then said it wasn’t his, and what transpired thereafter is that he kept it. He wanted to give it back to the organisers of the conference.”
The lawyer said the Deputy Minister who stays in Bulawayo, immediately left for Bulawayo after he was handed the phone. According to Kwaramba, his client could not return to Harare in time to hand over the cell phone because of the MP’s busy schedule. The lawyer added: “But he doesn’t have this phone now. He had given it to another Minister – one of the Ministers whom I can’t mention now, who has the phone. He gave the phone sometime ago to that Minister. So it is not really like he has had the phone for the past two weeks.”
There were reports claiming that one of the women allegedly found with the sim-card is the Minister’s girlfriend but his lawyer denied this. He said he could not divulge the details as it could prejudice the defence. However, he said: ‘There is certain information to the effect that the sim-card was recovered from a third party. But what I can tell you is, my client said that person is not his girlfriend. It happened to be coincidental that they happened to be at the same place at the same time.”
Reacting to Chinotimba’s lawsuit, the lawyer believes politicians are hijacking the issue, “and it is going to blow up. I am sure in a few days time we will be hearing much more drama on this matter.”
Kwaramba maintains his client has an explanation which ‘the world will know in due course.’ We were not able to get a comment from Joseph Chinotimba.
Meanwhile, the MDC says Mahlangu’s arrest comes in the wake of renewed persecution of MDC MPs and Ministers. The party has at least seven other MPs who are ‘facing trumped-up charges,’ while others continue to be threatened. Early this week the party’s Secretary-General and Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti received a letter with a bullet inside it.
SW Radio Africa