Former Minister of Finance, Ignatius Chombo was granted bail by High Court judge Justice Edith Mushore on Thursday, after almost a fortnight in police custody. Before that, Chombo was detained by alleged soldiers after being apprehended by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces during Operation Restore Legacy which the military said was targeting criminals around former president Robert Mugabe. Chombo is facing charges of fraud, criminal abuse of office and contravening the Prevention of Corruption Act. He is alleged to have committed some of the offences as long back as 20 years.
Chombo was initially denied bail by Harare Magistrate Elisha Singano on the 27th of November. Singano said that Chombo was a flight risk who could abscond if released on bail. Singano also said that Chombo needed to be incarcerated for his own safety. This prompted Chombo’s lawyer Lovemore Madhuku to apply for bail at the High Court. The bail application had to be postponed twice at the state’s request after prosecutors said they needed more time to file their response.
The state told the court that Chombo needed to be incarcerated for his own benefit arguing that he would be in grave danger if he was released on bail. The state argued that the solidarity marches held on the 18th of November showed that the public was incensed by the behaviour of corrupt officials. However, Madhuku dismissed the state’s assertion arguing that incarcerating someone for their own safety did not make sense as it was akin to kidnapping. Madhuku also argued against the illegal detention of his client saying that he had been brought to court after the lawful 48-hour deadline. The state, on the other hand, argued that Chombo’s rights had not been violated as he was brought to court within 48 hours. According to the state, Chombo’s previous detention was the work of unknown assailants who were not affiliated in any way with the State.
Justice Mushore said that Magistrate Elisha Singano erred in denying Chombo bail and said that he should have referred to the Criminal Procedures Act for guidelines. She said that the court must check the accused’s ties to the society and assets, in regards to the risk of absconding. Justice Mushore also said she was bound by the constitution which says ‘everyone is innocent until proven guilty’ regardless of who the person is, facts available and public sentiment. Justice Mushore says she is alarmed that magistrate made her ruling driven by public opinion. She added that the magistrate arrived at an irrational decision by meddling in the muddy waters of the court of public opinion. She also said that the public needs to have confidence that they can ‘sleep at night’ without being subject to arbitrary unlawful detention and gave the example of Jestina Mukoko.
Justice Mushore then overturned Magistrate Singano’s earlier ruling denying Chombo bail. She granted Chombo bail on the following conditions:
$5,000 USD bail.
To reside at 847 Golden Stairs Road, Mt Pleasant, Harare
To report 3 times a day between 6 am and 6 pm at Malbrough Police Station
To surrender his passport & title deeds for the home above.