Glen Forest cemetery fight drags Zimbabwe into diplomatic incident

HARARE – A diplomatic incident was unfolding on Thursday evening after police officers allegedly pursued a suspect into the European Union embassy in Harare.

The target was Joseph Richard Crnkovic, a dual citizen of Croatia and Zimbabwe who is involved in a nasty fight for the control of Glen Forest Memorial Park, a private cemetery in the capital.

National police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “We don’t have such a report.”

A spokesperson for the embassy said they would issue a statement on Friday.

The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations codified a custom that has been in place for centuries when it established the “rule of inviolability”.

This states that local police and security forces are not permitted to enter, unless they have the express permission of the ambassador – even though the embassy remains the territory of the host nation.

The convention is widely adhered to and is regarded as a basic pre-requisite for diplomatic relations.

Sources told ZimLive that Crnkovic, who was staying at the Meikles Hotel after arriving in Zimbabwe two weeks ago following his deportation from the country in 2015, was warned of his imminent arrest for as yet unclear reasons.

Crnkovic sneaked out and was pursued at high speed as he drove to the European Union embassy at Mt Pleasant Business Park.

“They were trying to force him off the road,” the source said. “When he got to the embassy, two police officers came onto EU soil and tried to forcibly remove him by attempting to jump into his car and drive off with him. He locked his doors.”

The embassy is understood to have offered to keep Crnkovic for a limited period of time. He had plans to go to the French embassy – but to avoid arrest he would have to jump into a diplomatic car, which was being negotiated.

Crnkovic, who is not a diplomat, was born in Zimbabwe to Croation parents. He recently won a court battle confirming his citizenship, which allowed him to return to the country in mid-July.

The businessman, through his company, Fopuld Investments, owns 49 percent of Candrina Investments (Pvt) Ltd, the company that owns Glen Forest.

Sometime last year, a conflict ensued between Crnkovic and the other shareholders who were trying to buy him out by offering him shares in an extension of Glen Forest known as Chikomo Chemhute where over 40,000 people are already buried.

Crnkovic, who refuses to sell his shares in Candrina, argues that Chikomo Chemhute is an illegitimate enterprise which exposed the business to litigation from families of people buried there. He claims the cemetery has no regulatory approval from the Environmental Management Agency, and the land should be reserved for residential accommodation and agricultural use.

It is suspected that some of the shareholders in associated companies – Evolution Group Ltd, Chikomo Chemhute and Matidoda Farms Pvt Ltd – are behind Thursday’s attempts to have him arrested.

Crnkovic was deported from Zimbabwe on December 21, 2015, and declared a prohibited immigrant after he wrote to several embassies insisting that the graves on Matidoda Farms, the cemetery known as Chikomo Chemhute, are illegally there.

“The farm (is not compliant with) section 35 of Zimbabwe Cemeteries Act,” Crnkovic wrote. “Furthermore, it is in the catchment area of the Mazowe Dam with no Environmental Management Agency (EMA) approval to establish a cemetery in this area.”

The businessmen appealed to the embassies, he said because his partners were politically-connected and he did not believe he could obtain justice in Zimbabwean courts.

Crnkovic only returned to Zimbabwe after the Supreme Court confirmed his dual citizenship.

Fungai Mparadzi, the chairman of Cadrina Investments, has previously told reporters that Glen Forest Memorial Park has all the required documents from the relevant authorities, including permits from the Goromonzi Rural District Council.

“Glen Forest is an independent company that operates a cemetery and a crematorium. Glen Forest operates legally and has approval from Goromonzi Rural District Council and all appropriate line ministries. Glen Forest has EMA approval to operate a cemetery and a crematorium. It buries everybody in lined graves, and this was a condition given by EMA in its approval,” he maintained.

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