VICE-President Phelekezela Mphoko has been caught in a fresh storm after he allegedly forced police to release top Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) executives arrested on corruption charges involving over $1 million.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA/EVERSON MUSHAVA/MARY TARUVINGA
Mphoko reportedly stormed Avondale Police Station on Wednesday night and demanded the release of acting Zinara chief executive officer Moses Juma and board member Davison Norupiri.
The two had been arrested earlier in the day for criminal abuse of office and fraud respectively by officials from the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.
“The VP personally came to the police station and ordered us to release the two. He actually said: ‘I am the VP of the country and I want you to let my boys go’. There was nothing anyone could do and he actually asked for his name to be indicated as having been responsible for their release in the detention book,” an insider told this paper.
NewsDay also gleaned a detention book that showed Juma and Norupiri were booked in on Wednesday and released on the same day.
Under the column “how disposed of . . . by whom authorised”, the book indicated “VP Mphoko” in both cases.
Some are indicated as having been released into the hands of the officer-in-charge crime on summons or to court.
Both Mphoko and the Minister of State in his Office, Tabeth Kanengoni-Malinga, were unreachable for comment yesterday.
Norupiri’s lawyer, Innocent Chagonda, said: “About his release, I cannot comment. I don’t know what happened. What I know is that they were released and I don’t know whether it was by consent or force.”
Juma’s lawyer Tinevimbo Mutemachani also said he was not aware how his client was released, urging NewsDay to consult Mphoko’s Office “if indeed it happened”.
Later on, he said the police, in their wisdom having assessed and verified facts surrounding issues concerning his clients, felt there was no need to detain them further until they fully and carefully investigated the matter.
“The police are simply being cautious to avoid legal impediments that may arise as a result of the arrest and probably continued incarceration,” Mutemachani said.
“I doubt that there was any external influence. But I do not have the facts.”
Norupiri and Juma subsequently failed to appear in court as scheduled yesterday, attracting outrage from presiding magistrate Vakai Chikwekwe, who grilled the prosecution over the matter.
Norupiri is alleged to have shown favour by handpicking three tax consultancy firms, two of them shelf companies, ostensibly to reduce Zinara’s tax obligation which had ballooned to $43 million.
“The accused did this to show favour and give Tax Management Services (TMS) (an established consultancy) an unfair competitive advantage over the other two shelf companies,” Norupiri’s charge sheet said, adding the Zinara boss had then “influenced the procurement committee’s deliberations of the engagement of TMS”.
Juma is accused of having authorised and approved various payments to TMS and trying to force Zinara acting finance director Precious Murove to sign the purported contract document.
According to the State, the figures involved would have required Zinara to follow tender procedures and a prejudice of $1 274 575 to Zinara and government.