Former Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu authorised payment of US$600 000 as legal fees to a Harare law firm for work done for the ministry without satisfying himself that the work had actually been done, the High Court heard yesterday.
The revelations were made during the fraud trial of Core Mining director Lovemore Kurotwi and former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chief executive Dominic Mubaiwa in which Minister Mpofu is a State witness.
During the trial, Justice Chinembiri Bhunu warned Minister Mpofu against being sarcastic in answering questions, urging him to take the proceedings seriously.
The minister allegedly instructed ZMDC and two other firms to pay the funds through a letter copied to chairpersons of the companies.
Half of the payment came from Canadile Miners under protest as the firm argued that not much work had been done for it. Kurotwi and Mubaiwa are being accused of defrauding the Government of Zimbabwe of US$2 billion through misrepresentation.
Minister Mpofu, a State witness, was under cross-examination by defence lawyer Mrs Beatrice Mtetwa when questions surrounding the payment of the US$600 000 were put to him.
Mrs Mtetwa wanted the minister to explain why he instructed the firms to pay the money without delay when he was not sure of the actual work done by the lawyers.
Minister Mpofu said the lawyers had been contracted by the Attorney-General's Office to do the ministry's work and he was simply acting on a bill brought before him.
Chief law officer Mr Chris Mutangadura objected to the defence's line of questioning, saying the questions were unfair as they were tantamount to invading the lawyer/client confidentiality between Government and its lawyers.
He said the document was privileged and the minister should not be asked to comment on it.
Mr Mutangadura said the issue was not relevant to the trial and that the questioning was spiteful and malicious and smeared the name of the minister.
He said it was as good as asking Kurotwi how much he paid Mrs Mtetwa for the legal work done so far.
Mrs Mtetwa said the issue was relevant and that the minister should explain the circumstances under which payment was authorised for the benefit of the nation.
She submitted that Minister Mpofu had opened the legal shield that protected him from being questioned on matters concerning his character because he had already labelled Kurotwi and Mubaiwa "fraudsters", "tricksters" and "organised gangsters" in the same trial.
Justice Bhunu reserved judgment on whether or not Mrs Mtetwa should be allowed to ask questions on the relationship between Minister Mpofu and his lawyers.
He said he needed more time to consider the submissions and case laws cited by both parties on the issue.
The parties were advised to file their written submissions on the issue ahead of a ruling by Justice Bhunu on August 27.
Mrs Mtetwa complained about Minister Mpofu's sarcasm and refusal to answer certain questions put to him, prompting Justice Bhunu to reprimand him.
"Minister, I would like to direct you that these proceedings are serious and there is no need for you to be sarcastic. Just answer her questions. She is simply doing her job," he said.
This came after Minister Mpofu at one point refused to answer a question put to him saying: "I do not want to answer it".
Minister Mpofu at times would smile when questions were put to him before responding with another question to the lawyer.
Kurotwi and Mubaiwa allegedly misrepresented to the Government that Core Mining was a special purpose vehicle for an internationally recognised mining giant BSGR Group and that it had the capacity to inject US$2 billion into the diamond mining project in Chiadzwa.
Government then partnered Core Mining and formed a joint venture company called Canadile Miners before it became clear that the company had no relations with BSGR.
Minister Mpofu is accused by Kurotwi of having demanded a US$10 million bribe for the deal to pass.