THE $2 billion fraud trial involving Core Mining and Mineral Resources director Lovemore Kurotwi took a new twist yesterday with defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa accusing ex-Mines minister Obert Mpofu of authorising payment of $600 000 in legal fees, using funds allegedly siphoned from Canadile Miners, a mining company in which her client was a shareholder.
SENIOR COURT REPORTER
Mpofu, now Transport minister, is being cross-examined in the matter in which Kurotwi and former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) chief executive Dominic Mubaiwa face accusations of acting in a manner that could have prejudiced government of a $2 billion investment after they allegedly misrepresented facts leading to the formation of the now-defunct Canadile Miners.
The company was a joint venture between Core Mining and Mineral Resources and ZMDC-owned Marange Resources.
Mtetwa said Mpofu allegedly wrote to the former ZMDC chairperson Godwills Masimirembwa, instructing him to “promptly pay” the legal fees although he had not verified to establish whether services had been rendered to warrant such payments.
She said her client was an interested party in the funds that were paid out since $300 000 was withdrawn from Canadile Miners’ coffers and paid out for services that had nothing to do with Mpofu’s ministry.
However, Mpofu refuted the claims, saying the legal fees were instead paid by the Mines ministry to lawyers that had been instructed by the Attorney-General (AG)’s Office.
As the cross-examination continued, Chief Law Officer Chris Mutangadura objected to Mtetwa’s line of questioning, arguing that she was rather forcing the minister to answer on privileged information.
This was after Mpofu, who was later warned by the court to answer questions, had on several occasions refused to respond to any queries relating to the authorisation of payment of the legal fees, saying he was not prepared to release information on the privileged subject.
“There are several cases that had nothing to do with Ministry of Mines and the minister authorised payment. It’s a matter of national interest that ministers do not authorise payment for services not rendered to their ministries,” Mtetwa said, addressing High Court judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu.
“It is in the public interest because Canadile is in the dock and the court should find out whether the minister exercised his duties properly.”
Mutangadura, however, argued that Mtetwa’s line of questioning was now targeting the minister himself and urged the court to uphold his objection.
“The bill of costs was directed to [the] Ministry of Mines by legal practitioners who had been contracted by the AG’s Office. There was a lawyer-client relationship that existed and the services were rendered to the Ministry of Mines,” Mutangadura said.
“These are facts extracted from a privileged communication. The questions by Mtetwa are simply meant to dramatise the proceedings and done with malice without having any relevance at all.”
Justice Bhunu then ordered the postponement of the matter to August 27 in order to give a ruling on whether Mtetwa should continue asking Mpofu on issues relating to his letter to ZMDC.
Turning to the issues of dividends, Mtetwa asked Mpofu whether Core Mining was paid its dividends from the diamond mining joint operations and the minister said it was not his responsibility to ensure such payment was made.
Pressed to explain what happened to Core Mining’s dividends, Mpofu said: “I cannot comment on that, dividends go to the Ministry of Finance and not Ministry of Mines.”
Mpofu was also asked to comment on the agreement signed between ZMDC and Core Mining, which agreement allegedly entitled the latter to be paid dividends, and also to comment on the alleged disappearance of $10 million from Canadile coffers.
He responded: “Those are your allegations, the agreement you are referring to is a fraudulent agreement and it’s a fraudulent piece of paper which was not signed by the government.”
After answering the question in that manner, Mtetwa asked the minister not to personalise issues.
Mpofu was further asked whether he had looked at Core Mining’s business plan, but said: “I did not look at a fraudulent document.”
And when the document was presented to him to look at it, he said: “I cannot look at a fraudulent business plan.”