Bennet's trial based on false evidence: lawyer

HARARE – The case against a senior official in Zimbabwe's MDC party is based on false evidence, his lawyers said on Monday in a trial which has raised tensions within the fragile unity government.

The Movement for Democratic Change has called Roy Bennett’s trial political persecution. His lawyers said investigators had failed to produce evidence implicating the politician, who could face the death penalty.

"The entire summary of your evidence in the state’s case includes information you know is false," Bennett’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, told the High Court in Harare.

Bennett, an ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested in February and is accused of illegal possession of weapons for terrorism, banditry and insurgency.

Tsvangirai’s MDC last month briefly stopped cooperating in a government with President Robert Mugabe over a dispute over their power-sharing deal. The trial against Bennett, the party’s treasurer-general, remains a major cause of friction.

Mtetwa said that the first state witness, a senior police officer who investigated the matter, had failed to link Bennett to a plot against Mugabe’s government in 2006.

Sipho Makone, a chief superintendent in the police, had said police found evidence that Bennett paid licensed Zimbabwean arms dealer Peter Hitschmann to buy weapons to assassinate senior government officials.

Hitschmann was acquitted of terrorism charges in 2006 but served jail time for possessing dangerous weapons — including six sub-machine guns and two machine guns — which have also been produced in Bennett’s trial. 

But Mtetwa said the police had failed to establish a link between Bennett and Hitschmann, including charges that the MDC’s treasurer-general paid $5,000 into a bank account held by the arms dealer in Mozambique to purchase weapons.

Makone said Hitschmann had an account in Mozambique but the prosecution had yet to establish that Bennett had deposited any money.

"You have no evidence whatsoever that the accused was being implicated by Histchmann," Mtetwa said.

Makone has told the court that Histchmann confessed in 2006, in a 2006 video recording made by army and intelligence officers, and in an affidavit, that Bennett was part of the plot.

The evidence was never used in the trial of Hitschmann, who has disowned the confessions, saying he was tortured into making them. Hitschmann has now written to the attorney-general saying he has no evidence to give against Bennett.

The trial continues. Reuters