A senior official of Zimbabwe's long-ruling ZANU-PF party has been arrested by police on at least 70 charges of fraud and extortion for allegedly swindling commercial farmers of millions of dollars.
The charges represent a major escalation of judicial action against Themba Mliswa, ZANU-PF Secretary for Lands for Mashonaland West province. He was recently granted bail by a Harare magistrate pending trial on charges he tried to shake down a white businessman with two associates, but was re-arrested on the new charges.
Prosecutors say Mliswa sought and was paid protection fees by commercial farmers - then subsequently sold their property and pocketed the funds. He is also alleged to have stolen more than 3,000 cattle and agricultural equipment worth millions of dollars from such commercial farmers.
Sources among white commercial farmers said Mliswa’s arrest was just the tip of the iceberg insofar as land reform abuses by ZANU-PF officials are concerned.
Commercial Farmers Union President Deon Theron said Mliswa’s case could open a legal can of worms as many farmers lost their property to top ZANU-PF officials under similar circumstances.
“This case is among several other cases of extortion and fraud related to farm seizures but it is not clear whether the government will start locking some of its members who are said to have committed these crimes,” he said.
Reports have linked Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and former deputy Information minister Bright Matonga to such farm seizures, though they have denied any wrongdoing.