A CHIPINGE soldier and a taxi driver who were accused of stealing Cyclone Idai relief aid escaped jail, but were fined $500 after their charges were amended by the State.
Bigbrain Sithole (23) of 3.3 Infantry Battalion in Chipinge and taxi driver, Philosopher Ratiso (32) of 46 Ngangu Township in Chipinge were facing theft charges, but the charges were altered to that of possession of property reasonably suspected to be stolen.
They pleaded guilty to the charge before Chipinge magistrate, Joshua Nembaware and were sentenced to 12 months in prison of which six months were conditionally suspended for five years.
The remainder of the sentence was suspended on condition they each paid $500 fine on or before July 31.
Their lawyers Langton Mhungu and Tariro Tazvitya pleaded with the court for a light sentence as the pair did not benefit from the crime.
“Every matter involving Cyclone Idai victims raises emotions, The accused didn’t benefit from the goods, but the Cyclone Idai victims did because all the property was recovered,” they said.
The pair was arrested after they escaped from a police roadblock when they were cornered before they got involved in an accident soon after.
Prosecutor, Shamiso Ncube told the court that on April 23, Sithole was on duty guarding Cyclone Idai aid relief at Silverstream base in Chimanimani.
He connived with Ratiso and one Maitai, who is still at large, to transport some of the aid to Chipinge.
Ratiso, a taxi driver, then came during the night with Maitai to the base while Sithole was on duty and loaded blankets, clothes, mattresses, shoes and clothes into the taxi.
The trio left the base and headed for Chipinge.
However, when they arrived at Jopa turn-off along Birchenough Bridge–Mount Selinda Road they were stopped at a police roadblock.
When they stopped, Maitai jumped out of the vehicle and disappeared into the dark.
Ratiso and Sithole drove off at high speed from the roadblock.
However, they were involved in an accident near Birchenough Bridge leading to Ratiso’s arrest, who implicated Sithole, who was arrested by military police while on duty at Silverstream base and handed over to the police.
Over 300 people died and thousands others were left homeless in March this year when Cyclone Idai wreaked havoc in Manicaland, Masvingo and Midlands provinces.