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Zimbabwe Judge Fails to Show Up for Sentencing

The Zimbabwe judge found guilty of corruption earlier this week was not in court for sentencing Friday. His whereabouts are a mystery.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Benjamin Paradza, after he failed to show up at the High Court in Harare.

His lawyer, Eric Matinenga, told presiding judge Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe that he did not know where his client was.

Judge Mutambanengwe issued a warrant for the arrest of Paradza, for failing to abide by his bail conditions. He said the warrant should be faxed to all of Zimbabwe's ports of exit.

On Tuesday, Paradza was found guilty of inciting two fellow justices to commit what were described as corrupt acts under Zimbabwe's Prevention of Corruption and Criminal Procedure and Evidence Acts.

The charges state that, in early 2003, Paradza asked two fellow judges to change the bail conditions of a business colleague who was facing murder charges. He allegedly wanted the judges to release the business colleague's passport, so he could travel abroad.

But, unknown to Paradza, one of the judges alerted the police. A second telephone conversation between the two was recorded by the police, and became a major part of the evidence against Paradza.

Justice Mutambanengwe is a Zimbabwean sitting on the Supreme Court bench of neighboring Namibia. He was chosen to hear the case, after Zimbabwe Justice Chinembiri Bhunu declined to preside over the trial of his former comrade in arms during Zimbabwe's war of liberation.

There was an international outcry when Paradza was hauled from his chambers in February 2003 and detained by the police. Some Zimbabwean judges also expressed their concern over the treatment of their colleague.

Some legal organizations have charged that Paradza's treatment could have been punishment for his handing down judgments not favorable to the government.

Paradza now faces up to three years in jail and a possible fine not exceeding 3,000 Zimbabwe dollars, which is equal to about four U.S. cents at the current exchange rate.