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Cablegate: February 3 Treason Trial of Mdc President

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS HARARE 000230

SIPDIS

LONDON FOR CGURNEY
PARIS FOR CNEARY
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR JENDAYI FRAZER
NAIROBI FOR PFLAUMER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR ASEC ZI
SUBJECT: FEBRUARY 3 TREASON TRIAL OF MDC PRESIDENT


1. The common law treason trial of three Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) leaders -- President Morgan
Tsvangirai, Secretary-General Welshman Ncube, and Member of

SIPDIS
Parliament Renson Gasela -- is scheduled to begin in
Zimbabwe's High Court on Monday, February 3. The trial was
originally scheduled for November 11, 2002 but was postponed
after state prosecutors failed to provide certain evidence
requested by the defense attorneys. The GOZ is alleging
that, in the months leading to the March 2002 presidential
election, the three MDC officials plotted the assassination
of President Mugabe with a lobbying firm headed by notorious
businessman Ari Ben-Menashe.

2. Innocent Chagonda, a member of the MDC's legal team, was
confident about the defense's case when we spoke to him on
January 30. He seemed to relish the prospect of
cross-examining principal GOZ witness Ben-Menashe, whose
credibility likely will not be difficult to impugn. He even
suspected that Ben-Menashe might not appear at trial, as
prosecutors refused to share their witness list.

Comment
-------

3. Most independent observers of Zimbabwe's political scene
have dismissed the charges as a transparent attempt to keep
the pressure on Zimbabwe's principal opposition party by
forcing it to commit scarce resources to legal counsel, and
that the case provided a convenient excuse to confiscate the
passports of the three accused. The MDC certainly has reason
to feel confident -- its legal team, led by renowned South
African attorney George Bizos, is strong, and the state's
evidence is, at best, flimsy. However, the stakes are very
high and there are signs which should worry the MDC. High
Court Judge Paddington Garwe has opted to handle this case
himself, and Garwe is well-known as a ruling party
sympathizer. In fact, Garwe dismissed several MDC challenges
to 2000 parliamentary election results although the
opposition party presented overwhelming evidence of political
violence and electoral manipulation. Under common law, Garwe
will have significant leeway in determining whether to
convict -- he would be more constrained had Tsvangirai been
charged under a particular statute with treason -- and in
determining the length of any prison sentence should there be
a conviction.


SULLIVAN

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