Following his arrest and brief detention earlier this week, Attorney General Sobuza Gula-Ndebele of Zimbabwe faces charges of corruption over allegations he failed to prosecute a wanted Zimbabwean banker with whom he recently met in Harare.
But sources informed on the case told VOA that the abuse-of-office charges brought against Gula-Ndebele were motivated by ruling party political intrigue.
Gula-Ndebele is accused of failing to prosecute former NMBZ Holdings Deputy Managing Director James Mushore, who fled Zimbabwe during a 2004 banking crisis that saw a number of financial institutions closed by the central bank – although Mushore's own bank was among those which survived the shakeout.
Mushore was arrested in Harare recently on allegations that he helped externalize foreign currency while a senior NMBZ executive.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said in a statement that Gula-Ndebele was briefly arrested Tuesday and then released after being charged under the criminal law act for actions “contrary to or inconsistent with [his] duty as a public officer.”
High Court Judge Rita Makarau meanwhile deferred a bail hearing for Mushore until Friday. Sources close to the judge said that she pushed off the hearing from Thursday out of fear of being prosecuted for giving “undue preference” to the matter.
Police say Mushore, who had sought asylum in the United Kingdom, returned to Zimbabwe in August and met with Gula-Ndebele, who allegedly assured him that he would not be prosecuted if he permanently returned to the country.
Bvudzijena dismissed charges that the matter has more to do with politics than justice.
Senior government sources said Gula-Ndebele has been targeted by the ruling party faction loyal to Minister Without Portfolio Emmerson Mnangagwa because he has lined up with the rival faction of retired army general Solomon Mujuru. Whether coincidentally or not, Mujuru happens to be banker Mushore’s uncle.
Gula-Ndebele is also at political daggers drawn with Zimbabwe's powerful minister of justice, Patrick Chinamasa, considered to be a Mnangagwa ally.
Defenders of Gula-Ndebele say the attorney general in the past has come under fire from the government and ruling party for refusing to prosecute opposition members.
Sources said President Robert Mugabe approved the action against Gula-Ndebele under intense lobbying by the Mnangagwa faction.
Human rights lawyer Jacob Mafume, also coordinator of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he was shocked by the arrest of Zimbabwe's attorney general.
Johannesburg-based businessman Mutumwa Mawere, who faces similar charges of externalizing foreign currency, said Mushore, with exiled bankers Julius Makoni and William Nyemba, established NMBZ as the first black-owned bank in Zimbabwe.
Mawere said the currency externalization charges can be traced to the appointment of the current governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Gideon Gono, who lobbied successfully to make the unauthorized export of hard currency a criminal offense.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...