High Court tosses jailed ex-minister’s freedom appeal

HARARE – The High Court has dismissed an appeal by jailed former cabinet minister, Petronella Kagonye challenging conviction and sentence.

Kagonye is locked up at Chikurubi Female Prison after she was found guilty of theft of trust property.

The ex-minister was slapped with a three year jail term by a Harare magistrate but was left to serve 16 months effective after part of her sentence was suspended on condition that she pays US$10 000 restitution to Potraz and does not commit a similar offence in five years.

Despite having accepted her fate, Kagonye complained that her sentence was harsh.

However, judges of appeal, Justices Benjamin Chikowero and Rodgers Manyangadze said the lower court was instead lenient with her.

“It is common cause that Kagonye did not deliver the 20 laptops to the two schools in Goromonzi South Constituency.

“This means she dealt with those laptops in a manner contrary to that provided for in the trust agreement.

“In all the circumstances, this judgment has demonstrated that all the issues raised in the appeal against conviction have been properly decided against the appellant. Indeed, the appeal against the conviction is completely devoid of merit.

“That court, which had the sentencing discretion, rendered full and sound reasons for the sentence it imposed. The appellant, who  had the  onus to persuade us that the sentence is shocking, did not go beyond  asserting  that the sentence is disturbingly inappropriate.

“The sentence does not shock us. If anything, it appears to err on the side of leniency. But that is beside the point. In the result, the appeal be and is hereby dismissed in its entirety.”

The judges dismissed both her appeal against sentence and conviction.

Kagonye was convicted of theft after having been found guilty of personalising 20 laptops that were meant to benefit schools in her Goromonzi South constituency through government’s e-learning project.

In 2018, while she was labour minister and Goromonzi South MP, she requested a donation of 28 laptops from the then information minister Supa Mandiwanzira.

Kagonye was then given the 20 laptops through Potraz and was given the discretion to choose the schools she wanted to benefit for purposes of e- learning.

The jailed former minister is then said to have written to Potraz through her personal assistant, one Catherine Befura authorising his brother Evans Kagonye to collect on her behalf. Evans then participated in the handover, take over.

It was the lower court’s finding that while fully aware that she had to donate the 20 laptops to schools in her constituency, Kagonye decided to donate three laptops to a school for the physically impaired in Ruwa and misappropriated the other 17.

She then failed to account for the laptops when she was questioned by Potraz.

Kagonye argued that she did not have the obligation to account to anyone, Potraz included, because she received the computers as a donation from the Information ministry.

From this misappropriation of public property, Kagonye was initially charged with theft, criminal abuse of office as well as fraud.

However, she was acquitted of the other two at the close of the State case

Judges said Kagonye was a disgrace to society.

“She became an obstacle to social development. She diverted laptops acquired using public funds for her own selfish ends.

“To that extent, the trial court discerned traits of corruption in the way that the appellant committed the offence and was mindful of that in assessing the sentence.

“We do not think that is tantamount to sentencing on the basis that the appellant had committed the offence of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer,” further read the ruling.

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