Henrietta Rushwaya off the hook over airport gold smuggling ‘bribery’

HARARE – Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) president Henrietta Rushwaya has been acquitted on charges of offering a bribe to an official at the Robert Mugabe International Airport after she was intercepted carrying 6kg of gold in 2020.

The National Prosecuting Authority had accused Rushwaya of offering US$5,000 to a Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAZZ) hand luggage scan operator who noticed the gold worth US$330,000.

Rushwaya, who was about to board a flight to Dubai, denied trying to smuggle the gold, instead telling airport officials that she had two identical handbags and in her rush to go to the airport she picked the wrong one.

The former Zimbabwe Football Association CEO also maintained that she had nothing to hide as followed the usual protocols at the airport – which is not consistent with someone trying to smuggle gold.

Harare magistrate Learnmore Mapiye said Rushwaya may very well have committed the offence, but the NPA’s evidence was too patchy for her to reach a guilty verdict.

The magistrate also said she was shocked that scan operator Owen Sibanda treated the matter as joke, even in court.

“The state witness did not support that the accused avoided the ordinary route. The key witness Owen Sibanda said that he was not offered any money but was going to be offered ‘5,000’,” Mapiye said.

“The evidence of the state witness was not convincing. The accused might have committed the offence but the State failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.”

Rushwaya’s trial took off last month and she entered a ‘not guilty’ plea. She denied offering a bribe to Sibanda, telling the court she had no cash on the day.

She maintained that she could not have put her bag through an X-ray scanner at the airport knowing full well it would detect the gold. The only explanation was that she carried the wrong bag and when she asked airport officials to take her home to verify her identical bags story, they refused, her lawyer Peter Patisani argued.

Prosecutor Netsai Mushayabasa said Rushwaya had offered Sibanda “5,000” but did not mention if it was currency.

Patisani said his client could not be convicted when the court is not even aware of what Sibanda was referring to when he mentioned the number 5,000.

In her ruling the magistrate concurred with the argument, accusing the prosecution and the witness of lacking seriousness.

“Sibanda testified that he took the issue of the bribe as a joke, which the court was shocked by because bribery is not a joke,” the magistrate said.

The NPA, the magistrate also found, gave the defence unsigned witness statements “when they had signed witness statements”, further harming their case.

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