HARARE – The attempted mass forfeiture of properties of the former police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri is “irrational and unconstitutional,” his lawyer has told the High Court.
The National Prosecuting Authority wants to seize Chihuri’s property portfolio allegedly worth US$32 million after he fled into exile in 2017 following a military coup.
His lawyer Addington Chinake told the High Court on Thursday that the attempt to seize the properties as “unexplained wealth” without affording Chihuri an opportunity to explain “demonstrates the hazard that exists in allowing public officials unfettered power.”
Chihuri, through his lawyer, told Justice Pisirayi Kwenda that he built his empire through hard work over many years, denying any of it was acquired with funds looted from the state.
Chinake said Chihuri owned a company called Kidsdale for 20 years after securing a loan from CBZ bank. The company owned tippers, earth movers and other construction equipment.
“It had big contracts,” Chinake said. “My client is not a dubious character who suddenly woke up to amass such wealth. It’s painful, for example, that the applicant being a beneficiary of the land reform programme was also a farmer producing maize which he sold to GMB. However, after the November 2017 events, his maize would not be accepted by the state.
“The applicant cannot be said to have obtained money or generated money through improper or elicit means when in fact he has chronicled before this court full details of how he was engaged in banana farming and maize farming which was sold for profit.”
Chihuri also accused the former Prosecutor General Kumbirai Hodzi, who triggered the court battle, of having personal motives.
“The PG’s approach to this matter demonstrates the hazard that exists in allowing public officials unfettered power to simply point at a person and ask you to explain. The conduct of the PG in our view is irrational and it is unconstitutional,” said Chinake.
“When you have such power, you have to exercise it judiciously, fairly and you should give any such person due notice of what you intend to do and affording them opportunity to respond and an opportunity to be heard. Where they (NPA) see reason to take action, they must give reasons for doing that.
“This case is a good example where the PG’s office did not satisfy these requirements and for that reason this unexplained wealth order was obtained improperly and in an unconstitutional manner and must be set aside.”
Chihuri said police officers who deposed affidavits against him were not in the force at the time the alleged misuse of state funds happened.
“They actually have no personal knowledge,” he said. “The current commissioner general (Godwin) Matanga is the one who dealt with the first applicant (Chihuri). He has not furnished the court with any allegations the court cannot go by, it’s all hearsay,” argued Chinake.
“The court doesn’t balance the interests of the applicants in assets that they say were illegitimately acquired… they cannot be mass forfeiture, which is essentially what this case is about. It’s about mass forfeiture, unconnected, unproven just following mere allegations. There has been no regard to the working history and businesses of the applicant.
“The applicant is seeking its discharge principally on the basis that it’s an unconstitutional order where there was no right to be heard, no right to administrative of justice.”
The hearing continues on March 29.