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Zimbabwean diplomat espionage conviction appealed

Harare - A senior Zimbabwean diplomat and two others jailed for allegedly selling information about President Robert Mugabe's party to South Africa have lodged an appeal with the High Court, their lawyer said on Friday.

"We have filed a notice of appeal on their behalf to the High Court," said lawyer Selby Hwacha.

"They are contesting their conviction and the sentences imposed on them, which were both unjustifiable. The newest information is the records are ready and we are expecting their appeal to be heard soon."

A 15-day trial of Ambassador-designate to Mozambique Godfrey Dzvairo, banker Tendai Matambanadzo, and Itai Marchi, a director in Zimbabwe's ruling party, ended on February 8 with convictions against all three for breaching the Officials Secrets Act.

Magistrate Peter Kumbawa sentenced Dzvairo to six years in jail, and the other two accused to five years each.

They were the first convictions emanating from a scandal in which six members of the ruling ZANU-PF party were accused of being part of an espionage ring providing neighbouring South Africa with information on the party's affairs.

The affair came to light when an alleged South African spy was nabbed by Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organisation operatives at Victoria Falls in December.

Under questioning, he gave the names of alleged collaborators within the governing Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front party.

In a twist to the espionage saga, Zimbabwe's director of public prosecution was quoted in a local weekly newspaper as saying the South African national was a "witness", contradicting earlier reports that he was part of the spy ring.

Dzvairo, Marchi and Matambanadzo had pleaded guilty to the charges at their first court appearance on December 24 but they later sought unsuccessfully to change the pleas on the grounds that their confession had been extracted under duress.

The three men were accused of being part of a ring run by Phillip Chiyangwa, a provincial party chairman and former Zimbabwean consul-general in South Africa, who was arrested along with five others, but has yet to face trial.

Chiyangwa, a flamboyant businessman with an extravagant lifestyle who allegedly received Z$10 000 dollars (R9.77) a month to pass on intelligence to South Africa, was freed by the High Court, which ruled that there was no evidence against him.

The trial of top ZANU-PF security officer Kenny Karidza, also arrested in a swoop in December, is under way in Harare.

Defence lawyers and the prosecution have not commented on the proceedings, which are being held behind closed doors.

The sixth person allegedly connected to the affair, Zimbabwean diplomat Erasmus Moyo, reportedly escaped while being moved from Geneva to Harare.

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