Cablegate: Mdc Mp Bennett Jailed

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




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. On Thursday morning, October 28, police at Harare
International Airport arrested Chimanimani MDC MP Roy Bennett
on charges of obstruction of justice. According to Bulawayo
MP and MDC Secretary for Legal Affairs David Coltart, Bennett
was on his way to a business meeting in Johannesburg, South
Africa and was scheduled to return to Harare the same day.
The arrest follows the Parliametary Privileges Committee
recommendation on October 27 that Bennett be jailed for 15
months "with labor" after assaulting two Cabinet ministers in
May. (See RefA). Bennett's lawyers launched an urgent
application for his release, which is scheduled to be heard
tomorrow. The police subsequently released Bennett into the
custody of Parliament for today to enable him to present his
arguments to Parliament, which is debating the report and
will likely vote on the penalty. Under the Privileges,
Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, Parliament has the
power either to fine or imprison for up to two years any
member found guilty of contempt of Parliament.

2. Coltart told poloff that Bennett had recently uncovered
the location of his coffee crop and was traveling to South
Africa to hand over important documents to his South
African-based lawyers. Bennett planned to be back in Harare
by that afternoon in time to argue against the Parliamentary
Committee,s recommendation of a jail sentence. Coltart said
Bennett only had the coffee documents in his possession at
the time of his arrest. Bennett was evicted from his farm in
April 2004 (See RefB) and, according to Coltart, the
Agriculture Rural Development Authority (ARDA), the
government parastatal that assumed control of the farm, sold
Bennett,s coffee crop for $200,000 to a German company.
After learning of the jail recommendation, Bennett wanted to
get the supporting documentation to his attorneys in South
Africa before a likely jail sentence was imposed.

3. Comment: It is not surprising that the Parliamentary
committee recommended jail time for Bennett. As a white
farmer elected on an MDC ticket in a purported ZANU-PF rural
stronghold, Bennett has been a thorn in the ruling party,s
side for several years; a jail term would be a way for the
party to be rid of him, at least until after the March
Parliamentary elections. If Parliament supports the
committee,s recommendation and sentences Bennett to jail, an
outcome for which Bennett's lawyers are preparing given the
ruling party's near super-majority in Parliament, Bennett
would still retain his seat. He ostensibly could still run
in the next Parliamentary election, although some ruling
party officials have asserted that the loss of his farm would
deprive him of the residency necessary to run in his rural
Chimanimani district. End Comment.

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