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Key Witness to be Cross-Examined in Zimbabwe Treason Trial - 2003-02-12

The judge in the treason trial of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's opposition leader, has ruled that the prosecution's star witness can be cross-examined about his contract with the Zimbabwean government. But the judge ruled that the questioning should take place behind closed doors.

The judge asked members of the public to leave the courtroom after ruling that the defense could ask the state's key witness questions pertaining to the work he was supposed to carry out under his contract with the government. The witness, Ari Ben-Menashe, a Canadian political consultant, has been refusing to give the details, citing contractual confidentiality.

On Monday, Mr. Ben-Menashe's stand got the backing of the state security minister Nicholas Goche, who issued a certificate ordering him not to give the court details of his contract with the government on grounds of national security.

But Judge Paddington Garwe has ruled that Mr. Ben-Menashe must disclose what activities he performed in fulfilling his contract with the government. However, in a concession to the government, he said he could do it behind closed doors and the details would not be published.

The defense maintains that Mr. Ben-Menashe was hired by the government to entrap Morgan Tsvangirai and two other members of the opposition, Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela. All three have been charged with plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

Mr. Ben-Menashe has provided the court with a video recording that allegedly shows Mr. Tsvangirai discussing "eliminating" Mr. Mugabe. The witness says he secretly made the recording at a meeting he had with the opposition leader in December of 2001.

A few weeks after that meeting, Mr. Ben-Menashe signed a contract with Zimbabwe to help improve the government's image.

Mr. Tsvangirai and his co-defendants have dismissed the tape recording as a fabrication and deny any involvement in a plot to assassinate Mr. Mugabe. If found guilty of treason, they face the death penalty.