INCARCERATED former Air Zimbabwe group chief executive officer Peter Chikumba breathed a deep sigh of relief on Wednesday after he was granted $2 000 bail pending appeal by High Court judge Justice Joseph Martin Mafusire.
BY CHARLES LAITON
In granting him bail, Mafusire noted that Chikumba’s chances of winning the case on appeal were high, as he may have been wrongly charged, convicted and sentenced for criminal abuse of public office. This was after Chikumba’s lawyer Advocate Thabani Mpofu argued that presiding magistrate Fadzayi Mtombeni had wrongly referred to Air Zimbabwe as a public entity when it is a private organisation.
As part of his bail conditions Chikumba (60) was ordered to surrender title deeds to his Borrowdale house, travel documents, and to report once every Friday at the nearest police station.
Chikumba had already served almost five months of his seven-year effective jail term at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison for prejudicing the airline of over $10 million in an aviation insurance scam, which also dragged in former AirZim secretary Grace Pfumbidzayi.
Pfumbidzayi is also serving an effective seven-year jail term for the same offence.
The duo was accused, as public officers, of having procured airline insurance brokerage services from Navistar Insurance without going to tender or without affording other insurance players the chance to bid for those services.
In July, Chikumba had his application for bail pending appeal dismissed by Justice Owen Tagu on the basis that he was a flight risk and that his chances of escaping jail on appeal were close to none.
Last month, Chikumba’s lawyer Admire Rubaya then instructed Mpofu to pursue the matter again, leading to yesterday’s court ruling.
“I was satisfied that the discovery, even at the last stage, that the applicant (Chikumba) may not have been a public officer, and, therefore, may have been wrongly charged and wrongly convicted, and this constituted changed circumstances,” Mafusire said.
“. . . On examining that new aspect, I found it to be so profound as to strike at the root of the very conviction in respect of which the applicant was serving time.”
The judge said the argument by the State that although AirZim was a private entity, it was controlled by the government, making Chikumba a public officer, was “fallacious”.
“To say the chief executive officer of Air Zimbabwe Holdings, a private company, is the same thing as ‘a paid office in the service of the State’ is absurd. The government is merely a shareholder in the airline. It is not the employer,” Mafusire said.
“In my view, the appellant was not a public officer. In my view, the appeal court is likely to find the appellant was wrongly convicted.”
Innocent Muchini appeared for the State.