Bennett's Woes Mount As Judge Sues

Officers from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) have over the past month been stalking Bennett at several of the premises that he owns in Harare without disclosing the reasons for such an action.

The plainclothes state security agents led by Detective Inspector Muchada of the Criminal Investigations Department’s Law and Order Section at Harare Central Police Station have since early this month visited companies and premises connected to the former Chimanimani legislator with the intention to arrest him for yet unclear charges.

But the state agents’ unexplained actions appeared to have been exposed this week after revelations that lawyers from Chikumbirike and Associates Legal Practitioners filed summons against Bennett claiming US$1 million in damages for defamation.

An alert released Monday by influential rights group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) revealed that Bhunu’s lawyers were suing Bennett for alleged defamation arising from an interview he allegedly granted to a British online newspaper before his acquittal.

ZLHR said in the summons, which were filed at the High Court last Friday Bhunu’s lawyers indicate that the damages he is suing for resulted from wrongful and defamatory words which were uttered by Bennett during an interview he allegedly granted to a journalist from the Guardian newspaper of the United Kingdom, which he granted on or around 9 May 2010, before Bhunu delivered his judgment acquitting the former Chimanimani commercial farmer.

Justice Bhunu’s lawyers allege that the remarks were published on 24 May 2010 by an online newspaper, the Zimbabwe Guardian Newspaper, which they claim enjoys wide distribution on account of being available on the internet free of charge.

ZLHR said Bennett is alleged to have stated that; “To know that the people that are doing it will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve their ends and that there is a selective application of the rule of law, that the judiciary is totally compromised, that the very judge that’s trying me is the owner of a farm that he’s been given through political patronage, that all the appointments have been done through the Ministry of Justice on a political basis…basically I should expect no mercy and fear for the worst”

Bhunu’s lawyers say Bennett’s alleged statement was wrongful and defamatory of the Judge in that they were intended to convey and were understood by the readers of the Guardian Newspaper to mean that the Judge was not a fit and proper person to be Judge of the High Court and to preside over his trial.

The High Court Judge’s lawyers also claim that Bennett’s alleged statements showed Bhunu as a conscious and willing tool, who was selected to preside over the former legislator’s trial by persons that will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve their ends by a selective application of the rule of law.

Bhunu’s lawyers claim that Bennett’s remarks alleging that the Judge’s judicial integrity had been compromised by the allocation of a farm through the land reform programme were meant to mean that his appointment was not based on merit but political patronage and connections.

The clandestine visits recently prompted Bennett’s lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa to dispatch a letter Muchada and police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena enquiring about the reasons of stalking his client. But the police have not yet responded to Mtetwa enquiries.

Bennett, who is Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s pick for the portfolio of deputy agriculture minister, which has not been filled since February 2009 when Tsvangirai and President Mugabe formed a coalition government, was acquitted by the High Court in May after undergoing trial on terror related charges.

However, the Attorney General (AG) Johannes Tomana has since appealed against High Court Judge, Justice Chinembiri Bhunu’s decision to acquit him.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku recently reserved judgment after hearing submissions from both the State and Bennett’s lawyers.