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Credibility of Main Witness in Zimbabwe Trial in Question

There was a major development Thursday in the treason trial of Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. The state's main witness admitted that, weeks before he signed his contract with the Harare government for political consultancy, he received a large cash payment from the government.

Canadian businessmen Ari Ben-Menashe told the Harare High Court that he signed a contract with the Zimbabwe government on January 10 of last year, but three weeks before that he received $200,000 from the government. However, he was unable to tell the court what the money was for.

Mr. Ben-Menashe, a political consultant, said his staff must have done political research for the government, but he could not recall what was done. He also could not say how many people worked for his firm, which is based in Montreal, Canada.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and two of his colleagues, Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela, are charged with plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe. The three deny the charges.

The state's main evidence against the three, is a grainy videotape of a meeting that the three MDC officials had with Mr. Ben-Menashe in Montreal on December 4, 2001.

The videotape shows that at the meeting the words "elimination" and "President Robert Mugabe" were used. At the time, Mr. Ben-Menashe had been hired by the opposition party to lobby for it in the United States.

Defense advocate George Bizos said the $200,000 payment to Mr. Ben-Menashe must have been for one thing: his efforts to entrap Mr. Tsvangirai since that was the only work the consultant had done for the Zimbabwe government up to that time.

Mr. Tsvangirai was charged with treason, which carries the death sentence, three weeks before he challenged Mr. Mugabe at presidential elections last March.