A South African court this week rejected a bid by the Zimbabwean Attorney General's Office to extradite a former business partner of Grace Mugabe, wife of President Robert Mugabe, so he could stand trial in Harare for allegedly defrauding the first lady.
Mrs. Mugabe is said to have paid Johannesburg-based businessman Ping Sung Hsieh $1 million to purchase six haulage trucks and trailers in 2008, but Ping failed to deliver.
But some wondered why the Office of the Attorney General and an officer of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe traveled to South Africa to argue on on Mrs. Mugabe's behalf.
Zimbabwean state prosecutor Chris Mutangadura was unsuccessful in his legal bid in Gauteng Province as the magistrate found the case to be a civil dispute.
Sources said the magistrate criticized Mr. Mutangadura for submitting a contradictory affidavit and for failing to prove that fraud had been committed.
Four drivers employed by Ping were under house arrest in Harare after being detained when they delivered four trucks Ping had contracted with Mrs. Mugabe to supply. The deal went back to 2008, involving funds transferred by the Reserve Bank, an alleged partnership in a Chinhoyi gold mine, and an undercover Zimbabwean police woman.
The short version of the tangled saga is that Ping initially failed to deliver the haulage trucks, but eventually did so in part, leading to the arrest of the drivers.
Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, representing the four drivers, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Violet Gonda that it was baffling to see senior government officials in South Africa acting in what she says was a private extradition case.
“What interest is it for the Reserve Bank if I have been cheated by my business partner?” Mtetwa demanded. She noted that the Attorney General’s office rarely if ever dispatches prosecutors to other hearings in South Africa, even in robbery cases.
“Even if it was criminal the attorney general does not need to be there because the application in South Africa is by the state of South Africa to the South African court,” added Mtetwa, a prominent human rights defender.
Arnold Tsunga, director of the Africa Program of the International Commission of Jurists, said it is an abuse of state power for the Office of the Attorney General to step into a civil matter involving private individuals. “This is one of those examples which shows the ‘big-man syndrome’ in Africa where the big man becomes bigger than state institutions and is seen as operating beyond equality of the law," Tsunga said.
Efforts to obtain comment on the case from the Office of the Attorney General and the Reserve Bank were unsuccessful.