Bennett witness tortured

HARARE - Zimbabwe's high court yesterday struck out evidence from the main witness in the treason trial of a top aide to Premier Morgan Tsvangirai, after a judge accepted he had been tortured into testifying.

HARARE - Zimbabwe's high court yesterday struck out evidence from the main witness in the treason trial of a top aide to Premier Morgan Tsvangirai, after a judge accepted he had been tortured into testifying.

Roy Bennett, the treasurer of Tsvangirai's party, is accused of plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe in 2006 in a conspiracy already dismissed by the courts in an earlier case.

Arms dealer and former policeman Peter Hitschmann was initially charged with Bennett but was later convicted of a lesser charge of illegal possession of firearms in 2006.

Hitschmann was the lynchpin in the case against Bennett, but in court two weeks ago he gave graphic testimony claiming he had been tortured in custody by security forces to extract a statement.

Justice Chinembiri Bhunu said statements made by Hitschmann could not be used as evidence as they were not signed and Hitschmann said his interrogators forced him to implicate Bennett.

Both Bennett and Hitschmann were in the court as the judge read out his decision.

Attorney-general Johannes Tomana did not comment on the ruling, but immediately continued with his questioning of Hitschmann, making him identify weapons that police say were meant to be used to overthrow Mugabe.

Hitschmann has already said that some of the weapons, including two Uzi submachine guns, were his but insisted they were registered.

He has testified that he never met Bennett until they were brought to court together, undermining much of the state's case.

Bennett was Tsvangirai's pick for deputy agriculture minister in the power-sharing government with Mugabe, formed nearly a year ago.

He is accused of providing Hitschmann with funds to buy weapons to be used to topple the veteran leader.

Bennett's co-accused in the treason case, Giles Mutseyekwa, is now home affairs minister in Zimbabwe's power-sharing government, after being acquitted of similar charges in 2006. - Sapa-AFP

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