Zim Finance Minister Takes Police To Supreme Court Over Phone Spying

Biti, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) secretary-general petitioned the high court early this month seeking a court order to bar police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, Chief Superintendent Patrick Maguta and Senior Assistant Commissioner Simon Nyathi who had allegedly secured a search warrant from the magistrate court to enter Econet Wireless and seize records pertaining to the call history of Biti’s three cell phone lines. Biti also wanted Econet to be interdicted from providing the required information.

The police claimed that they wanted to pry into Biti’s communications as part of an investigation into allegations that the MDC secretary-general unlawfully authorised an employee in his ministry Petronella Chishawa to travel on several foreign trips on special per diem rates thereby showing favour to her.
But high court judge justice Chinembiri Bhunu on Friday dismissed Biti’s application and ruled that he could have committed an offence emanating from Chishawa’s foreign trips.

“While the applicant has the right to privacy under section 18 of the constitution, that right is not absolute. The police also have the legal right to detect, investigate and arrest suspects. Thus where the police have reasonable cause to investigate crime the subject’s right to privacy must of necessity give way for the common good and public interest to fight crime. The law does not prohibit lawful inversion of privacy. What is prohibits is wanton and unlawful inversion of privacy. In this case as the police appear to be acting according to law, the application cannot succeed,” read part of Bhunu’s ruling.

In response to Bhunu’s ruling, Biti’s lawyer Innocent Chagonda on Friday filed a notice of appeal in the Supreme Court against the judge’s ruling.

In his grounds of appeal Chagonda argued that Bhunu had misdirected himself in dismissing Biti’s application for an interdict. The feisty lawyer said the search warrant obtained by the police interferes with the Finance Minister’s constitutional rights and is void.

“In refusing the application, the court a quo (lower court) is enforcing an illegality,” Chagonda said in his notice of appeal.