Former US soldier faces jail in Zimbabwe over unlicenced gun at airport

HARARE – A retired American soldier faces jail in Zimbabwe after pleading guilty to possession of a gun and ammunition without a licence.

Retired first class sergeant Ronald Leon Johnson was arrested at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on February 15 before boarding a flight to Victoria Falls.

The loaded pistol was in his check-in luggage.

His defence says Johnson licenced the gun in the United States and had no idea he needed a permit to carry it in Zimbabwe.

“He is a holder of a valid firearm licence. The firearm licence was issued on March 5, 2017, and will expire on March 5, 2022. That permit enables the accused to move around in America. He passed through several airports,” his lawyer, Thomas Nyakunika, said.

Johnson arrived in the country on February 5 on a holiday visa. The gun was not detected when he arrived.

Harare magistrate Stanford Mambanje remanded Johnson in custody to Thursday for sentencing.

He faces up to 20 years in jail after his guilty plea on two counts of carrying a firearm and ammunition in Zimbabwe without a firearm certificate in terms of the Firearms Act and breaching the Civil Aviation (Security) Regulations Act.

Prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudhi said Johnson had refused to give up his iPhone password to verify the people he was communicating with in Zimbabwe.

Johnson told police that he has a business contract with the United States government and there was information on the phone that he needed to protect.

The prosecution said Johnson’s visit was “suspicious”, citing his service in various hotspots in his 25 years of service in the United States army.

“Johnson has been sent on missions in different countries around the world. He went to South Korea from 1986 to 1987, in Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991. He was at one time based in Germany from 1992 to 1994. He also served in Saudi Arabia in 2004. He served in a peacekeeping mission in Sudan. In summary, he is a military man with experience in hotspots throughout the world,” Mabhaudhi said.

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