Mugabe guards working illegally?

Hong Kong - Police in Hong Kong are investigating whether two bodyguards protecting the Zimbabwean president's daughter, Bona Mugabe, were working illegally on tourist visas.

Zimbabweans Mapfumo Marks and his female colleague Manyaira Reliance Pepukai were spared prosecution for their alleged February 13 assault of two newspaper photographers outside a house where Robert Mugabe’s daughter lives while studying in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Grenville Cross, defended the Department of Justice’s decision not to prosecute, saying bodyguards acted as they did because they were “genuinely apprehensive for the safety of Miss Mugabe”.

However, sources close the investigation say the bodyguards were both on three-month visitor visas that made it illegal for them to work in Hong Kong. Working on a tourist visa is punishable by up to two years in jail. An investigation has been ordered.

Grace Mugabe

Both bodyguards returned to Zimbabwe when their visas expired. They have since been replaced by two different bodyguards who are understood to also be on visitor visas while protecting 20-year-old Bona Mugabe.

The development reignites a controversy over the Mugabe family’s treatment in Hong Kong. Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace was granted diplomatic immunity over an alleged assault on another photographer who took pictures of her shopping in January.

Tim O’Rourke, one of the two photographers allegedly assaulted by the bodyguards, said: “I find it absolutely extraordinary that no one checked on their visa status. All they had to do was look at their passports.”

Lawyer Michael Vidler, who represents the photographers, said the case was particularly disturbing after the case involving Grace Mugabe.

“The whole Mugabe saga is sending out a very negative message about Hong Kong to the rest of the world,” he said. “It is adversely affecting our reputation as a place that is safe to live and where the law is applied equally, irrespective of who you are or how powerful your connections.”

A justice department spokesperson confirmed the visa case had been passed back to police to investigate but insisted their visa status would not have affected the decision not to prosecute.

A police spokesperson refused to say if police had checked the visa status of the two bodyguards, saying: “The immigration status of the two persons concerned was not the focus of the investigation.”

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