Roy Bennett hit with new charges

As high court defers decision on whether to dismiss terrorism charges

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's High Court has deferred until May 10 a decision on whether to drop charges against an ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in a case that has heightened tensions in the coalition government.

Roy Bennett, treasurer general in Tsvangirai's Movement for Denocratic Change (MDC) party, was arrested in February of last year while his MDC colleagues were being sworn-in as ministers in the coalition led by President Robert Mugabe.

He faces a possible death sentence if convicted of illegal possession of arms for purposes of committing terrorism, banditry and sabotage.

Judge Muchineripi Bhunu announced the delay on Wednesday, saying the transcripts of the trial were not ready. The first session of the High Court ended on Wednesday and would only resume on May 10.

The judge waived a condition of Bennett's bail that he report to police once every two weeks and said he could apply to have his passport released if he needed to travel abroad.

Before the ruling, police detectives served Bennett with a summons to appear in court in eastern Zimbabwe on new charges of unlawfully possessing 92 tonnes of maize at his farm in 2001 before it was seized by Mugabe's government.

A former white commercial farmer and MDC legislator, Bennett told journalists that the new maize charges and delay in passing judgment were a clear indication that he was being politically persecuted.

"I will be on trial the rest of my life," Bennett said outside the court building. "It makes me very sad, there are some people who want to continue politically persecuting me."


State prosecutors ended their submissions early this month and the judge is now expected to rule on whether to drop the charges or ask Bennett to take the stand and defend himself.

The state's case -- that Bennett planned to fund a 2006 plot to blow up a major communications link and assassinate key government officials -- hinges on e-mails prosecutors say link the former commercial farmer to the crime.

The state's case was dealt a blow last month when its chief witness, 49-year-old former policeman and arms dealer Peter Hitschmann disowned the e-mails and denied Bennett was involved.

Mugabe has refused to swear-in Bennett until he is acquitted. The dispute is one of the issues being discussed by negotiators from Mugabe's ZANU-PF and MDC in talks mediated by South African President Jacob Zuma.

The negotiators have missed a Monday deadline to end the talks and were likely to miss Wednesday's time limit to present a report to Zuma on agreements on the sticking points.

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