The government postponed the treason trial of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai to February 2003, thus keeping him in suspense for four months since the state would be holding his passport.
Tsvangirai is accused of planning to assassinate President Robert Mugabe and was implicated by former Israeli agent Ari Ben Menashe
The postponement deprives Tsvangirai and his co-accused of their passports for four months and keeps the threat of hanging over their heads.
Viewing cable 02HARARE2455, Govt Postpones Tsvangirai Treason Trial
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS HARARE 002455
¶E. O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Govt Postpones Tsvangirai Treason Trial
REF: Harare 2120
Sensitive but unclassified. Protect accordingly.
¶1. (U) Summary: Zimbabwe’s High Court has put off the
trial of opposition Movement of Democratic Change (MDC)
leader Morgan Tsvangirai on charges of treason until next
February. We believe the postponement indicates the GoZ
has been unable to build a strong case against its main
political foe. End Summary.
Eleventh Hour Accusations
¶2. (U) In a bizarre case of political intrigue, the GoZ
brought charges of high treason, punishable by death,
against Tsvangirai and two other party officials
immediately before last March’s controversial election.
Former Israeli agent Ari Ben-Menashe implicated them in
an alleged plot to assassinate President Mugabe. Ben-
Menashe had allegedly shot a video of himself discussing
the plot with Tsvangirai.
Procedural Defects in a Structurally Weak Case
¶3. (U) According to local attorneys, the Zimbabwean legal
system differs from the US system in that defendants are
not automatically entitled to review evidence that will
be used by the prosecution. In this case, Tsvangirai’s
attorneys requested postponement because they had
received neither a copy of the allegedly damning
audiotape nor a transcript, both of which they had
requested. There is speculation that the State
manipulated the audiotape, so Defense is seeking to have
an expert examine the original before the trial begins.
Additionally, Defense complained of delays in receiving
an outline of State’s case against the three defendants.
Finally, Defense requested postponement because the
original court date was set without consultation with
defense attorneys, in violation of accepted practice.
¶4. (U) While the decision whether or not to grant the
postponement was a matter of the High Court’s discretion,
the prosecution failed to contest the application. Local
attorneys believe this failure to oppose, after earlier
threats by the State to vigorously contest postponement,
lends credence to the view that the GOZ has been unable
to build a case.
¶5. (SBU) Comment: Ben-Menashe is a shady figure who has
done consulting for Mugabe’s government. If the video-
tape exists, we suspect it shows evidence of manipulation
or involves a sort of baiting and entrapment that any
neutral court would throw out. It seems Tsvangirai was
on the mark when he predicted to us in September (ref)
that Ben-Menashe’s unwillingness to testify would weaken
an already flimsy case. While the Government has planned
to try Tsvangirai and his colleagues at almost the same
time as alleged wife-killer and MDC MP Jonwe (who
subsequently died in custody), the GoZ must regard the
trial’s postponement as a “next-best” outcome, since it
deprives the MDC’s two most effective spokesmen
(Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube) of their passports for
four more months and keeps the threat of a capital
indictment hanging over their heads.