There was drama at the Harare Magistrates’ Court yesterday where convicted former Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) chief executive officer Peter Chikumba and the airline’s former company secretary Grace Pfumbidzai’s relatives openly wept after the two were slapped with a 10-year jail term each for defrauding the national airline of millions of dollars.
BY CHARLES LAITON
The two, however, will each serve an effective seven-year jail term after the magistrate suspended three years on condition of good behaviour.
Chikumba (60) and Pfumbidzai (50) were on Thursday this week convicted of criminal abuse of office after a fully contested trial before
Harare magistrate Fadzai Mtombeni on allegations that they siphoned over $8 million from the struggling national airline through an insurance scam.
In her reasons for sentence, Mtombeni said there was need to imprison the pair and send a clear message to any would-be offenders more so given the fact that corruption was on the increase in the country.
“A civilised society does not want a sentence that destroys an accused person . . ., but there was a lot of prejudice that was caused to AirZim since the two accused persons benefited a lot,” Mtombeni said.
The magistrate further said the offence committed by the two was so serious that it would in normal circumstances attract up to 15-year imprisonment, but given their ages and them being first offenders they deserved a lesser sentence, but without escaping a term of imprisonment.
During the long-running trial, Chikumba distanced himself from the offence and fingered Pfumbidzai whom he said acted unilaterally when she appointed Navistar Insurance Brokers (Private) Limited as the airline’s insurer in contravention of company policy regarding the awarding of business contracts.
But in her defence, Pfumbidzai said Chikumba chaired a meeting that resolved to engage Navistar.
Prosecutor Daniel Muchimbiri proved that Chikumba and Pfumbidzai’s criminal activities surfaced after an anomaly was discovered by former AirZim board chairman Ozias Bvute pertaining to amounts paid between April 2009 and April 2013 to Navistar in respect of aviation insurance premiums.
The court heard the two former bosses appointed Navistar to provide aviation and insurance cover without going to tender after terminating the services of other existing companies.
The two, according to the evidence presented in court, also inflated aviation insurance premiums over payments made to United Kingdom-based Colemonte Reinsurance Brokers (Private) Limited and Reinsurance Brokers (Private) Limited.
The national airline then released ₤15 452,93 to Navistar, ₤10 607 859,22 to the two British companies and pocketed ₤5 895 695,49.
In May 2009, the two also misrepresented to AirZim that there was urgent need for the airline to pay $142 300 to the European Commission to dodge sanctions, but subsequently converted the money to their own use.