Zimbabwe assets face seizure after tribunal rules for farmers

By Peta Thornycroft in Harare
air_zim.jpgAir Zimbabwe's passenger jets could be seized at Gatwick airport after an international tribunal ruled that the country's assets could be confiscated and sold in order to compensate farmers whose land has been seized.

The decision by the Washington-based International Centre for the
Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) came after a six-year legal
battle between a group of Dutch farmers and President Robert Mugabe’s

It finally ruled last week that Mr Mugabe’s government had broken a
bilateral investment treaty with the Netherlands and awarded the group
more than 14 million in compensation.

The ICSID is part of the World Bank and the judgment can be enforced by
seizing Zimbabwean state assets – such as Air Zimbabwe’s aircraft – in
any of its more than 100 member countries, which include both Britain
and America. Embassy buildings, though, are excluded from seizure under
the Vienna conventions.

At a hearing in Paris, which was closed to both the public and media,
Zimbabwean officials defended the eviction of more than 4,000 farmers
saying the best agricultural land was taken by white "settlers", mostly
British, during the colonial era.

One of the farmers, Ben Funnekotter, 49, born of Dutch parents in
Zimbabwe and who now lives in Australia, was one of the first forced
off by Mr Mugabe’s thugs in 2000.

"We need to see if the award will be paid," he said. "If it is not,
then I will start proceedings to impound any assets belonging to the
Zimbabwe government."

Matthew Coleman, a British lawyer who represented the farmers in Paris,
said: "We hope this encourages others to come forward and bring claims
under the bilateral investment treaties."

Daily Telegraph (UK)

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