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Senior Zimbabwean Official Faces Bribery, Gem Smuggling Charges

Senior Zimbabwe official William Nhara, arrested Thursday at the Harare International Airport for allegedly attempting to smuggle diamonds out of the country, was to appear in court in Harare on Tuesday for arraignment, government sources said.

Assistant Police Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, a spokesman for the national force, said Nhara faced charges of attempted bribery and illegal possession of diamonds. He said Nhara tried to bribe an airport police officer with US$700 upon his arrest.

Until recently, Nhara served as principal director of public and interactive affairs in the ministry of state of the same name. At the time of his arrest, Nhara was serving as a principal director under Minister Without Portfolio Chen Chimutengwende.

Attorney Jonathan Samkange, representing Nhara, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his client would assert his innocence.

In court on Monday was Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga, who is on trial for allegedly soliciting bribes during his tenure as the chief executive of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company, or ZUPCO, the state bus transport company.

Though President Robert Mugabe has vowed to root out corruption, political analyst John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe said Harare is sacrificing “small fish” in order to divert attention from government ministers and top party officials.

Diamond fever has swept Zimbabwe since the discovery of alluvial gems in eastern Manicaland Province. Police and troops have cordoned off the area but smuggling is rampant and is said to involve senior government officials. Police last week arrested Muthulusi Dube, son of Zimbabwe Defense Industries executive Tshinga Dube, for possessing diamonds and gold over which a state agency holds a monopoly.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...