Zanu hawks plot to jail Biti

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s security forces are cooking up criminal charges – possibly of a financial nature – against Finance Minister Tendai Biti as part of a campaign to distract Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T ahead of polls set for next year, a leading London-based political think-tank has warned.

Biti is the MDC-T’s secretary general and widely seen as one of the former opposition party’s chief strategists. The combative finance minister is also among MDC-T cadres seen a potential leaders of the party should Tsvangirai one day step down from his position as president.

Africa Confidential said last week that the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the police were baying for Biti’s blood as part of an elaborate plan by Zanu (PF) hawks to discredit and sidestep the MDC-T and distract the former opposition party during campaigning for elections tentatively set for 2011.

“There are already rumours that the security forces’ dirty tricks departments are beavering away to bring criminal charges – possibly of a financial nature – against him,” the think-tank said in its latest report. The plan is to bring charges of financial embezzlement or misappropriation against Biti and incarcerate the MDC-T’s virtual second-in-command without trial for a long time and then release him towards the elections.

“As Tsvangirai’s treason trial showed, the charges do not have to be believable; their mere existence distracts attention and detracts from the political effectiveness of the accused,” observed Africa Confidential. Tsvangirai was cleared of an attempt to assassinate President Robert Mugabe by High Court judge Paddington Garwe in 2006 following a sensational three-year-long treason trial that attracted world attention.

In his judgement, Garwe ruled that the State had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt the allegations against Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai, on trial for his life for high treason, had always rejected a conspiracy to assassinate Mugabe or stage a putsch. The prosecution had based its case on evidence from a grainy videotape of a meeting between Tsvangirai and Canadian political consultant Ari Ben Menashe, who became the state’s key witness.

Tsvangirai’s lawyers dismissed the videotape, saying it was inaudible and that the state had failed to produce the original.

With elections expected in less than a year, the Zanu (PF) machinery is working at full throttle to position the former ruling party for a comeback after the sensational defeat at the hands of the MDC-T in the last polls held in 2008.

It is alleged that intelligence officers have been assigned to monitor the activities of the MDC-T top brass, particularly Biti and Tsvangirai. The ultimate goal is to ensure that targets are destroyed as a credible political force. – The Zimbabwean