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RUSSIA: U.S. basketball star convicted at drug trial, sentenced to 9 years – New Zimbabwe.com

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By Associated Press


RUSSIA: U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted Thursday in Russia of drug possession and smuggling, and was sentenced to nine years in prison in a politically charged case that ultimately could lead to a high-stakes prisoner exchange between Washington and Moscow.

The 31-year-old Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic champion and a eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, listened with a blank expression as an interpreter translated the verdict by Judge Anna Sotnikova. Griner also was fined 1 million rubles (about $16,700).

U.S. President Joe Biden denounced as “unacceptable” the verdict and sentence, which came amid soaring tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine.

“I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said, adding that he would continue to work to bring home Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction.

Outside court, the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires Elizabeth Rood called the outcome “a miscarriage of justice.”

Griner, recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, has been detained since Feb. 17 after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage upon landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. She was returning to Russia, where she has competed since 2014.

As she was led out of court, Griner said: “I love my family.”

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years that Griner had faced under the charges. Most Russians possessing small quantities of drugs get at most five years in prison, lawyers said.

Defense attorney Maria Blagovolina told reporters later that Griner was “very upset, very stressed. She can hardly talk. It’s a difficult time for her.”

Before the unusually swift verdict was reached, an emotional Griner apologized to her family, teammates and the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where she plays in the WNBA offseason, “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them.”

With her voice cracking, she added: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”

Under Russian law, Griner has 10 days to appeal, and her lawyers say they expect a hearing in Moscow regional court next week. Asked if Griner could ask for pardon from President Vladimir Putin, Blagovolina said they would consider every possibility, but the lawyers said they were not part of any discussions about a prisoner swap.

A conviction is usually a prerequisite to arranging a prisoner exchange and also allows Griner to apply for a presidential pardon. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last month that the “necessary judicial procedures” must be completed before any other steps can be taken.

The disclosure in July that the U.S. government was seeking a prisoner swap involving Griner reflected the growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring her home. The U.S. State Department had earlier declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.

When she took the stand July 7, Griner said: “I would like to plead guilty on the charges against me. But I had no intention of breaking any Russian law.” She added that she brought the vape canisters into Russia because she had packed in haste for her flight.

In later testimony, Griner described a confusing scene while being held at the airport, saying an interpreter provided by authorities translated only a fraction of what was being said to her and that officials told her to sign documents, but “no one explained any of it to me.” She also said she was not informed of her rights.

Her lawyers introduced evidence that Griner was using the medicinal cannabis for chronic pain and injuries sustained during her career and included a letter from her doctor. Griner testified she was aware that cannabis oil was outlawed in Russia and had not intended to break the law or “plan to smuggle anything into Russia.”

Trials in Russia proceed even after admissions of guilt, and there has been speculation her actions were an attempt to move the legal process along in hopes of a possible prisoner swap.

Griner’s case and her nearly six months behind bars have raised strong criticism among her supporters in the United States, including her wife, Cherelle, that Biden was not doing enough to win her freedom.

Griner sent a personal appeal to Biden, and more than 1,100 Black female leaders urged the administration to “make a deal to get Brittney back home swiftly and safely and to meet with Brittney’s wife Cherelle immediately.” Biden later called Cherelle Griner “to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the White House said July 6.

Cherelle Griner, who also spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris, later said she was “grateful to the both of them for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed to getting BG home,” using her wife’s initials.

On July 27, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington has offered a deal to Russia aimed at bringing home Griner and Whelan in a sharp reversal of previous policy. Details of the proposal were not announced, though a person familiar with the matter said the U.S. has offered to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Whelan and Griner. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Russian media have speculated repeatedly that Griner could be swapped for Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. after being convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization. Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years.

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law an courts

Outrage as Henrietta Rushwaya bizarrely acquitted – The Zimbabwe Mail

Henrietta Rushwaya


ZIMBABWE Miners Federation (ZMF) boss Henrietta Rushwaya has been cleared of wrongdoing in a case where she was accused of offering a US$5,000 bribe to an airport official in a bid to smuggle gold worth US$330,000.

Harare magistrate Learnmore Mapiye ruled that the State’s case was too weak for a reasonable court to convict.

Rushwaya had denied the allegations arguing that she never attempted to bribe anyone since she had no money on her on the day in question.

Rushwaya also said she never avoided the normal airport routines to prove that she had nothing to hide.

Mapiye upheld her arguments.

“The State witness did not support that the accused avoided the ordinary route,” said the magistrate.

“It is also common cause that Owen Sibanda, the key witness, said that he was not offered any money but was going to be offered US$5,000.

“Sibanda said that he took the issue of the bribe as a joke which the court was shocked about because the issue of the bribery is not a joke.”

She added, “The State witness told the court that the accused was arrested for travelling with gold without proper documents but the evidence of the State witness, especially the first one, was not convincing.

“The accused might have committed the offence but the State failed to prove beyond belief that she could have committed the offence.”


Rushwaya was cleared of the charge after a full trial.

Allegations were that she attempted to bribe a Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) official Owen Sibanda to let her illegally pass through the Robert Gabriel Mugabe international airport with gold.

She denied allegations insisting that she had carried the wrong bag from home on that day.

During trial, Rushwaya testified that when she realised that she had carried the wrong bag, she asked the police to accompany her to her house to collect the correct bag which the police allegedly later collected upon her arrest.

“As we speak both of the similar bags are at the police station,” she added.

Rushwaya also told court that witnesses might be lying against her as a result of external forces who might want to tarnish her reputation and to ruin her chances of remaining ZMF president in the upcoming elections.

“My position is a highly contested one and, when the incident happened, we were heading towards an election so maybe Sibanda was and still is under the influence of external forces,” she said.

“Maybe he is being made to give statements to appease those who are controlling him in an effort to jeopardise my chances of remaining president or he is being malicious.”

Source – NewZimbabwe


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law an courts

Mphokos, Choppies legal wrangle rages on – Bulawayo24 News

THE legal battle pitting Choppies Enterprises Limited against former Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and his son Siqokoqela over the 51 percent shareholding that they claim at the retail giant will now proceed to trial.

This follows the decision by Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Martin Makonese to dismiss the exception plea raised by the Choppies Enterprises Ltd.

In legal terms, an exception is pleading in which a party raises an objection to the summons or plea on the basis that the pleading is vague and embarrassing or lacks the necessary averments to disclose a cause of action or defense.

Choppies Enterprises, through its lawyers Dube-Banda, Nzarayapenga Legal Practitioners, sought an exception to the Mphokos’ summons and declaration on the grounds that the cause of action is vague and embarrassing.

Choppies Enterprises, Choppies Distribution Centre (Proprietary) and Nanavac Investments who are cited as defendants, argued that the declaration does not disclose a cause of action.

Choppies Enterprises operates a chain of retail shops in Zimbabwe and is a duly incorporated company in terms of the laws of the country while the Choppies Distribution Centre (Proprietary) and Nanavac Investments are public companies incorporated in terms of the laws of Botswana.

From the submissions filed by the defendants, they are disputing the plaintiffs’ (Mphokos’) claim that the true value of their 51 percent shareholding in Nanavac Investments was US$22 585 714.

“The deed of settlement to the extent to which it purports to set out the value of the 51 percent shareholding of the plaintiffs in Nanavac Investments is null and void,” argued the defendants’ lawyers.

Choppies Enterprises, Choppies Distribution Centre (Proprietary) and Nanavac Investments argued that the Mphokos’ claim is contradictory and inconsistent in that it seeks a declaration of invalidity without a tender of the amount they alleged to have received under duress.

“Defendants contend that the plaintiffs ought to have sought a set-off against the true value of the shares,” said the lawyers.
In their ground of exception, the defendants, further argued that the summons and declaration do not disclose a cause of action for the payment of US$22 585 714.

The Mphokos, through their lawyers Ncube and Partners, argued that the sum of US$2,9 million, which was paid by the defendants is not the true value of their 51 percent shareholding.

The plaintiffs’ argued that they are entitled to an order declaring that they are supposed to get payment of the true value of the 51 percent shareholding, which they held before they were divested of their shareholding in Nanavac Investments.

Faced with the claim, the defendant gave written notice to the Mphokos on August 18, 2020 complaining that the summons and declaration was vague and embarrassing.

They called upon the Mphokos to remove the cause of complaint within 12 days of service of their letter.

The Mphokos contended that there is no merit in the complaint by Choppies Enterprises, Choppies Distribution Centre (Proprietary) and Nanavac Investments.

They argued that it was a ploy to delay the finalisation of the matter.

In his ruling Justice Makonese said there is no legal requirement in terms of the law that compels plaintiff to plead more than the cause of action.

“I conclude, therefore that on the first ground of exception, the plaintiffs have pleaded a complete cause of action,” he said.

The judge said the Mphokos said the exception by the defendants on the grounds that the cause of action in relation to duress is vague and embarrassing has no merit and that the matters would be resolved by evidence.

“The plaintiffs have, in my view, pleaded facts upon which if they are able to prove with evidence, they may establish duress or undue influence,” said Justice Makonese.

He said for the exception to succeed the plaintiffs’ claim must go beyond salvage.

“I am satisfied that the excipients have failed to discharge the onus to show that the pleadings are vague and embarrassing and that they would be prejudiced in any way. In the result, and accordingly, the application be and hereby dismissed with costs,” ruled Justice Makonese.

The Mphokos were the majority shareholders in Choppies Enterprises holding an aggregate of 51 percent shareholding in the company. The former Vice-President held 25,5 percent, his son had 25,5 percent and Choppies Enterprises held 49 percent shareholding through Nanavac Investments.

The dispute arose in 2018 between the Mphokos and Choppies Enterprises, and it spilled to the courts. According to court papers, it was stated that in January 2019 the Mphokos and defendants agreed that plaintiffs would divest themselves of their shareholding in Nanavac Investments.

The parties entered into an agreement, which resulted in a deed of settlement being recorded. The deed of settlement is now the subject of the court proceedings.

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law an courts

‘Virtual courts may infringe rights’ – Bulawayo24 News

MEMBERS of the public yesterday said the introduction of virtual courts could infringe on the rights of accused persons.

This came out during a public hearing on the Judicial Laws Amendment Bill in Harare by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice.

The Bill seeks to provide for virtual court sittings in both civil and criminal proceedings at a time when many nationals are not conversant with modern technology.

It also seeks to align various provisions of judicial laws to the Constitution.

The Judicial Service Commission launched the virtual court system in February this year to speed up the completion of cases clogging the Judiciary.

Zimbabwe Lawyers of Human Rights (ZLHR) representative MacDonald Moyo said virtual courts might result in adverse human rights implications.

“In criminal cases, the conduct of the proceedings should, as far as possible, reflect in-person trials ensuring the right to a fair hearing under section 69 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Accused persons must be able to adduce all evidence without obstacles and virtual proceedings must ensure that due process is followed,” Moyo said.

“Given the digital divide that exists in Zimbabwe — with most of the population experiencing internet access challenges for many reasons including high data costs, high costs of smart devices, social and economic inequalities, and inadequate infrastructure — virtual courts may further infringe on the right to non-discrimination, equality and equal protection and benefit of the law protected under section 56 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.”

Proposing that there should be provision in the Bill to allow detained persons to challenge their detention through physical appearance in court, Moyo added: “There should be a limit imposed on the number of sessions that can be heard virtually, ordinarily, remands are for 14 days, at least a maximum of 28 days to ensure that the accused person appears before a magistrate who can also verify their welfare, including any issues or violations that may be perpetrated by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services officials.”

Veritas representative Kuziva Ngodza said: “Most people in the country do not have access to computers and WiFi, so how are we also going to ensure that they have access to these in light of the amendments being proposed by the Bill? We need effective cross examination on the virtual platforms.”

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