The wife of Zimbabwe’s vice-president, Constantino Chiwenga, has been accused of attempting to kill him by disconnecting his life support while he was undergoing treatment in hospital this year.
She is accused of illegally transferring almost US$1m (£740,000) overseas to purchase luxury cars and property, and faces additional charges of attempted murder.
Constantino Chiwenga, who played a leading role in ousting Robert Mugabe in a military takeover in 2017, has a serious disease of the oesophagus, which has made eating difficult and has required months of hospital treatment.
The 63-year-old former army chief is a controversial figure, blamed by many for recent waves of repression in the former British colony.
The court case and accusations will focus attention once more on Zimbabwe’s opaque political elite, which is frequently accused of graft and incompetent economic management, and on the significant wealth of some individuals.
Police documents allege that Merry Chiwenga travelled to South Africa with her seriously ill husband in June and attempted to prevent him from seeking medical attention until his security detail intervened.
In July she went to the private hospital in Pretoria where he was being treated and told staff to leave her alone with him before disconnecting vital equipment, police allege. When security personnel and medical staff intervened, she left the hospital, the documents claim.
The vice-president was later treated in China and has since returned to Zimbabwe. His wife has said she is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Local media reported that the marriage of the former beauty queen and the former head of the armed forces had collapsed.
Zimbabwe’s anti-corruption commission brought the fraud and money laundering charges against Merry Chiwenga. The commission has pursued a series of high-profile figures in the last year, jailing several of them.
Critics say the commission is highly politicised and its targets are all enemies of senior officials in the government of the president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe faces a profound economic crisis exacerbated by drought. Millions of people there are reliant on food aid. Many of the problems are a legacy of decades of mismanagement under Mugabe, who died in September.
The rising prices have reminded many of the economic collapse just over a decade ago, when hyperinflation emptied shelves of basic foodstuffs and led the country to abandon its currency.
The situation in rural areas is particularly bad, aid workers in Zimbabwe say, though there is growing evidence of widespread malnutrition in cities too.