Telecom drags AG to court

telecelHARARE - Telecel, the Zimbabwe unit of Egypt's Orascom Telecom, has dragged the Attorney General to the High Court for dropping charges against business tycoon, Jane Mutasa, arrested in March after allegedly swindling US$750,000 airtime from the mobile phone operator.

Mutasa was cleared together with her PA Caroline Gwinyai, Telecel’s regional sales manager, Charles Mapurisa, and commercial director, Naquib Omar, after AG Johannes Tomana flatly refused Telecel permission to pursue a private

prosecution against Mutasa, who sits on the company’s board.

Jane Mutasa is one of the most outspoken businesswomen and is a senior member of Zanu (PF). She heads the indigenous businesswomen’s organisation. Godfrey Mamvura of Scanlen and Holderness – Telecel’s lawyers – has now

approached the High Court, arguing Tomana misdirected himself when he withdrew charges against the four. The case was set down before Justice Ben Hlatshwayo.

“The respondent misdirected himself at law and exercised discretion when the provisions of Section 16 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act provide that in every case in which the AG declines to prosecute, he shall at the request of the party intending to prosecute, grant the certificate required,” Mamvura said. “It is unfortunate that the respondent thinks that he has discretion when it comes to issuing the certificate.”

“At the accused persons’ initial court appearance, the magistrate refused to grant them bail on the ground that the evidence against them was overwhelming and they were likely to abscond if admitted to bail.” Mamvura said Telecel strongly believed that the evidence gathered by the police against the accused persons was overwhelming. Tomana’s opposing papers said Telecel’s application was ill-founded and should be dismissed with costs.

“Only private persons with some substantial and peculiar interest in the issue of the trial arising out of an injury that he individually has suffered by the commission of the offence are entitled to undertake private prosecutions,” Tomana said. “The application must fail on that basis. I deny that my decision, under the circumstances, is precluded by law as alleged.

“The section cited does grant me both powers and obligations, which are guided by a condition precedent, which is that I must consider the evidence first, before exercising the statutory discretion. I am obliged to issue the certificate in every case where I am satisfied that an offence has been committed, but that obligation does not arise where no case is disclosed by the evidence.”

Hlatshwayo has reserved judgement and asked both parties to file supplementary heads of argument by September 24. The alleged swindle came to light in September last year when Telecel ordered an audit which found that mobile phone sim cards and recharge cards worth $1,7 million were unaccounted for. Investigations revealed a loophole which the company alleged had been used by Mutasa’s company, Oxygon Investments, to spirit away sim cards and airtime worth US$750,000 with no intention to pay.

Telecel said Mapurisa and Omar deliberately ignored a July 15 directive to cease all use of manual invoicing and log all sales into an electronic database. The duo allegedly connived to release 30,000 sim cards, also known as seed packs, valued at US$300,000 and airtime recharge cards worth US$450,000 to Mutasa’s company using an invoice book which cannot be found.

The goods were delivered to Oxygon and received by Mutasa’s PA, Gwinyai. Telecel Zimbabwe is currently 60 percent owned by Telecel Globe, Orascom’s sub-Saharan African unit, and 40 percent owned by Zimbabwe’s Empowerment

Corporation, a consortium of local shareholders. Mutasa says she is being targeted in a bid to stop her from snapping up 11 percent stake in Telecel which is up for grabs as the company moves to comply with indigenisation laws.

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