State witness seeks legal advice

2010-01-14 08:54

Harare - The prosecution's star witness in the high profile trial of Zimbabwe's junior agriculture minister-designate Roy Bennett for terrorism and insurgency on Wednesday asked the court to allow him time to seek legal advice.

Arms dealer Michael Hitschmman told the High Court in Harare that he did not want to jeopardise his appeal in the Supreme Court against a 2006 conviction for possession of arms of war without a licence.

"I ask for adjournment to secure legal counsel to represent my interests," Hitschmann said in a submission to Judge Chinembiri Bhunu, after the judge had ruled that the state did not have a strong enough case to impeach him.

The state had sought to impeach Hitschmann when the trial resumed on Tuesday, saying he was now siding with Bennett despite earlier testimony against him.

Prosecutors allege Hitschmann was paid by Bennett to buy weapons to assassinate government officials. Bennett, a former white commercial farmer and opposition activist has been charged with illegal possession of weapons for purposes of terrorism, banditry and insurgency.

"With respect, the attorney general now requires me to answer questions pertaining to my trial and I have to request my rights in this matter. I am prepared to assist the state in whichever manner, but not to the extent of jeopardising my appeal," Hitschmann said.


Attorney General Johannes Tomana who is leading the prosecution, responded immediately, saying: "There is no merit in the fear the witness is pressing."

Bennett's defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa disputed the submission by Tomana saying there was no law which did not allow anyone in Zimbabwe to have access to a legal representation.

Tomana then asked for time to look for a citation, prompting Bhunu to adjourn the trial until the afternoon.

Charges against Bennett arose in 2006 when Hitschmann was found with an arms cache, which the prosecution says he acquired after he was given US$5 000 by Bennett to topple President Robert Mugabe.

According to the prosecution, Bennett was implicated through emails and a confession that Hitschmann allegedly made. The arms dealer has since distanced himself from the confession.

When he told the High Court Tuesday denied having written emails produced in court as evidence of his alleged dealings with Bennett, prompting prosecutors to declare him a "hostile and unfriendly witness."

Hitschmann was acquitted of terrorism in 2006 but served a two-year jail sentence for a lesser charge of possessing weapons without a licence. The weapons included six sub-machine guns and two machine guns. These have been produced as exhibits by the prosecution in Bennett's trial.