The High Court has stopped the Sheriff of the High Court from arresting and committing Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo to prison for contempt of court.
Justice Charles Hungwe yesterday issued the interim order which runs until August 10 this year when the court will make its ruling on whether or not the minister had purged his contempt.
Minister Chombo was found to be in contempt of court for defying two High Court orders compelling him take the necessary steps to ensure reimbursement of $1,5 million and $78 900 unlawfully seized from a Mutare businessman Mr Tendai Blessing Mangwiro in 2008.
However, the minister contends that he has since complied with the orders through writing to the Finance and Economic Development Ministry requesting funds to reimburse Mr Mangwiro.
To that end, Minister Chombo filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court seeking an order barring his arrest and subsequent committal to prison for a period of 90 days.
Justice Hungwe heard full arguments both on the interim and final reliefs before reserving judgment to August 10.
Minister Chombo, for now, will be a free man until determination of the main case.
Justice Amy Tsanga last year ordered the minister to purge his contempt or risk being committed to prison for 90 days. The police confiscated the money from Mr Mangwiro upon his arrest on criminal charges before the court cleared him of any wrongdoing in the matter.
Justice Tsanga found the minister guilty of contempt of court for failing to ensure payment of the $78 900 to Mr Mangwiro in terms of a court order and jailed him for three months with labour.
The judge said the sentence could be wholly suspended if Minister Chombo complied with the court orders he defied.
In the urgent chamber application, Minister Chombo, through his lawyers, indicated that he was aware that the Sheriff wanted to arrest him but the arrest would be a violation of his rights.
The lawyers submitted that so far, two attempts have been made by the Sheriff to arrest the minister and that the court should intervene.
They argued that the minister had complied with the orders and that the planned arrest was a violation of his right to liberty.
Mr Mangwiro’s cash was seized by police and held as an exhibit, but when the matter was finalised the money could not be accounted for. He then approached the court seeking reimbursement and several court orders were granted in his favour, but Minister Chombo allegedly persistently refused to budge.
In the $78 000 case, Mr Mangwiro was charged with theft and tried by a regional court.
When he was acquitted on January 18, 2013, police had unlawfully and procedurally released the $78 900 seized from Mr Mangwiro and Z$46 135 000 000 to one Andre Nsaka Nsaka.
The cash and some motor vehicles, were in fact, not exhibits before the regional court and there was no basis for them to be released to that person.
Mr Mangwiro then applied for the release of his cash. Using the prevailing Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe rates, the Zimbabwe dollar component of Z$46 135 000 000 was converted to US$1 537 833.
The High Court initially ordered the minister to pay back the $78 900 but did not issue an order in respect of the Zimbabwe dollar component.
Mr Mangwiro appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled that he must also be paid in United States dollars but referred the matter back to the High Court for quantification.-Zimpapers