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Zimbabwe Judge Delays Key Ruling in Tsvangirai Treason Trial - 2003-07-17

Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and his two co-defendants will have to wait for more than a week to know if the High Court in Harare will dismiss the treason charges against them, or proceed with the trial.

Judge Paddington Garwe said there should be a ruling on the matter on Monday, July 28. But he said he might need more time.

The judge was speaking at the end of four days of arguments by the defense and prosecution teams on a motion by the accused for the case to be dismissed.

The defense team, led by attorney George Bizos, argued that charges against the three opposition leaders should be dismissed, because the two key state witnesses are not credible because they were paid large sums of money by the Zimbabwe government on a consulting contract. The lawyer also said their testimony, and other prosecution evidence, failed to meet the minimum standard of proof.

The government's two key witnesses, Canadian political consultant Ari Ben-Menashe and his assistant Tara Thomas, testified that Mr. Tsvangirai approached their company to arrange the assassination of President Robert Mugabe.

Mr. Ben-Menashe secretly made a video recording of a December 2001 meeting, during which Mr. Tsvangirai is alleged to have made the request. Mr. Tsvangirai and his co-defendants deny the charge, and the audio on the videotape is difficult to understand.

The poor quality of the tape, the defense argued, was a deliberate attempt to leave the proceedings of the meeting to the interpretation of the two witnesses. The defense lawyer described the meeting as an attempt at entrapment, in exchange for money. He also said Mr. Ben-Menashe's and Ms. Thomas's evidence contradicted each other.

The prosecution team, led by Acting Attorney-General Bharat Patel, argued that Mr. Tsvangirai was under no inducement and participated voluntarily in the meeting. The prosecutor said Mr. Tsvangirai did not reject the idea of assassinating the president or a coup d'etat when they came up.

He also said that though Mr. Tsvangirai's co-defendants were not at the videotaped meeting, they had attended earlier meetings during which it is alleged the plot was discussed. The prosecutor said there is no legal basis to dismiss the case.

If convicted Mr. Tsvangirai and his co-defendants could face the death penalty.