BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
The trial of Zvimba Rural District Council (RDC) chief executive officer, Peter Hlohla, and his alleged accomplice, former town planner Takura Mabaya, who are facing charges of fraud and criminal abuse of office continued yesterday with the duo pleading not guilty.
Hlohla (41) and Mabaya (34), who appeared before magistrate Bianca Makwande, pleaded not guilty to allegations of illegally allocating land for residential stands in Mt Hampden.
The Zvimba chief executive officer is represented by advocate Lewis Uriri and Mabaya by Dumisani Mtombeni.
The State represented by George Manokore is still leading evidence from Charles Gwada, who was declared a witness in accomplice by magistrate Makwande.
Gwada is a former executive officer in the Local Government ministry, State Land division, and is also implicated in the corrupt activities, but is testifying in court as a State witness.
He told the court last month that he received some documents in December 2016 from Zvimba RDC and the documents were lease agreement, recommendation letter for title deeds and other documents stating that the stand in question had already been paid for.
The witness exonerated himself from the case, saying the documents he received from the two were authentic and so he could not suspect anything wrong.
He further told the court that under normal circumstances, the chief executive officer of a council and town planners can endorse the documents that he processed on behalf of the ministry.
The matter was postponed to next month for trial continuation.
Allegations are that on March 7, 2016, Zvimba RDC corruptly originated a letter signed by Mabaya for Hlohla to the secretary for State Land in Local Government, Public Works and National Housing ministry requesting to be allocated an open space on the remainder of Haydon Farm in Mt Hampden for residential purposes.
The State alleges on March 7 that same year, the Department of Physical Planning said the change of use of the open space would contradict the layout plan, as Haydon township was not yet fully developed, hence, the application for change of use was not successful.
It is alleged that on November 14, 2016, Hlohla and Mabaya corruptly sold the piece of land to Obrim Petroleum Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd, a company owned by some Chinese nationals.
The State further alleges that on December 20, the duo in apparent show of favour, applied to the Department of State Land for processing of title deeds for the same stand using a letter signed by Mabaya for Hlohla.
Records show that the land is owned by the State as a public open space and has not been handed over to Zvimba council.
The State says Hlohla and Mabaya did not get approval to sell the stand. The two, with the help of a Local Government ministry official, acquired a fraudulent title deed for the stand.
They allegedly forged the signature of the deputy director State Land to facilitate issuance and granting of the deed.
Mabaya is also charged separately for fraud after he allegedly converted $300, which was given to him by the council to purchase a laptop, which had been stolen from his house.