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Defense Questions Credibility of Key Witness in Zimbabwe Treason Trial

The defense in the treason trial of Zimbabwe's leading opposition figures has obtained the transcript of an audio tape containing what the prosecution claims is highly incriminating evidence. The transcripts include conversation between the defendants and the prosecution's star witness in London.

It is during the London meeting that the state's key witness, Canadian political consultant Ari Ben-Menashe, alleges the Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai told him the British government had offered his party $10 million (US) to bribe a top-ranking military official to stage the coup d'etat.

Mr. Ben-Menashe was hired by the Movement for Democratic Change to do some lobbying and fund-raising for the opposition party.

Defense lawyer George Bizos spent a good part of Monday morning questioning Ari Ben-Menashe about his work for the government, for which he was paid more than $600,000, and undermining the credibility of the witness.

Mr. Bizos argued before the court the prosecution's crown witness had been paid by the Zimbabwe government to entrap the accused opposition leader and two of his colleagues, Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela.

The three are charged with trying to hire Mr. Ben-Menashe to assist in the assassination of President Robert Mugabe. Mr. Ben Menashe secretly videotaped a meeting he had with Mr. Tsvangirai, which he alleges proves the assassination plot.

All three defendants deny they conspired to assassinate Mr. Mugabe, and argue Mr. Ben-Menashe is involved in an attempt to frame them.

If found guilty of treason, they face the death penalty.