HARARE - Zimbabwean prosecutors have charged one of President Robert Mugabe's Cabinet ministers with bribery and abuse of office in the first corruption case against a senior government official since 2004.
Critics and the opposition accuse Mugabe of turning a blind eye to graft, especially among his close allies and ministers, and say endemic corruption is one reason that foreign companies are not investing.
Martin Dinha, minister of provincial affairs for Mashonaland Central Province, north of the capital Harare, appeared at the Bindura magistrates court in the province on Wednesday, where he was charged and then released on $1,000 bail.
According to the charge sheet seen by Reuters on Thursday, Dinha demanded and was paid $60,000 in 2012 to protect a white farmer who faced eviction from his farm.
Prosecutor Nguni Nguni said Dinha abused his position as minister and head of a committee that distributes land to people in his province to get a bribe from farmer Guy Frank Dollar.
Dinha has denied the accusation but is yet to make a plea in court, his lawyer Tapson Dzvetero said. The trial is due to start on Oct. 19.
The charges were politically motivated, Dzvetero said, but gave no further details.
Mugabe's government has seized more than 4,000 white-owned commercial farms in a land reform exercise that often benefits senior ruling ZANU-PF party and government officials.
The last government minister to be charged with graft was Chris Kuruneri, who was acquitted in 2007.
Zimbabwe was last year ranked 156 out of 174 countries on the Transparency International index, which measures public perceptions of corruption in public institutions.
Its economy has been struggling for five years to recover from a catastrophic recession that was marked by billion percent hyperinflation and widespread food shortages.