News in depth: Airport Road scandal takes centre stage at Biti trial

Tendai Biti

THE scandal surrounding the incomplete Harare Airport Road has taken centre stage in the trial of former Finance minister Tendai Biti, who is facing charges of assaulting a businesswoman with the opposition stalwart using the trial to show how his accuser has allegedly captured state institutions in Zimbabwe.

Biti, who is a senior Citizens Coalition for Change leader and Harare East legislator, wants the Harare magistrates’ courts to refer his case to the Constitutional Court as he fears that he will get an unfair trial.  He is accused of verbally assaulting Tatiana Aleshina two years ago

Aleshina is a business partner to businessman Ken Sharpe who owns Augur Investments that was controversially awarded the Harare Airport Road construction contract on May 30, 2008 without going to tender.

Augur was supposed to construct the Airport Road with an understanding that 90% of the costs would be paid in the form of land and 10% in cash.

Augur went on to subcontract Fairclot, who withdrew all their equipment and stopped work on the road after doing 2.7km of the 10km due to non-payment. The road was supposed to connect the Robert Mugabe International Airport to Harare’s central business district.

Government later cancelled the contract, but Harare City Council had already transferred a total of 273 299 hectares of land in Borrowdale’s Pomona area to Augur.

The original title deeds for the land known as stand number 654 Pomona measuring 273 299 hectares is still held in escrow by Fairclot’s lawyers Coghlan, Welsh and Guest.

Testifying in court last week, Biti said he was a victim of state capture by Aleshina whom he said had unusual influence over state institutions to an extent that she would violate the law without any consequences.

After spirited attempts by prosecutor Michael Reza to block him from making reference to the Harare Airport Road, the politician-cum lawyer went on to detail  how the  businesswoman of Ukrainian origin allegedly used their links with “in high”  offices to grab vast tracts of land.

According to Biti, the expose` was relevant to the assault case to show how the complaint was an alleged “mastermind of malicious prosecution against him” and had abused other institutions in what he said was state capture.

“I will demonstrate your worship how a company called Augur Investments extracted thousands and thousands of hectares of land from the city of Harare and from the government of Zimbabwe by this company that the complaint is at the centre of,” he submitted.

He cited the May 2008 agreement between the city of Harare and Augur Investments for the Airport road project.

“The second agreement relates to an agreement executed in 2007 between Augur Investments and the City of Harare to create a company called Sunshine Development Private Limited, a joint venture company but once again Augur Investments received thousands and thousands of hectares of land with Augur Investments and the complaint putting absolutely nothing into the capital account of Sunshine Development,” Biti said.

“Sunshine Development was used to extract thousands of hectares of land in respect of which Augur Investments did not put a single cent in the capital account as they were obliged to do in terms of the agreement.

“Augur Investments was obliged to put US$30 million into the capital account of Sunshine Development with the city of Harare putting in land.

“The shareholder agreement was very clear that Augur was supposed to put money, and that it was not going to securitise the land transferred to it.

“But in fact, Augur did so and they went to the market to borrow substantial amounts of money from a commercial bank.

“The City of Harare then reported Augur Investments. The complaint then wrote letters to the state saying why ‘are you prosecuting when we have indemnity arising from the deed of settlement’ and the prosecution stopped as a result of those letters.

“Those letters amount to interfering with justice. If someone is so powerful to stop prosecution over a very serious matter, what more influence can she have over a misdemeanour of assault?”

Government cancelled the agreement between Augur Investments and City of Harare for the Airport Road project in May 2014 after construction had stopped, but Augur went on to demand more land, Biti added.

“Despite the fact that they did not perform, the complaint then demanded additional land as a penalty against the City of Harare, which land did not even belong to the city of Harare.

“It belonged to the state and was owned by the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe. Litigation commenced.”

Augur Investments then proceeded to transfer stand 654 Pomona into one of its satellite companies, according to Biti.

“Using her influence, a few days before the matter was heard on appeal at the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, she went to the highest offices in the land and extracted a deed of settlement in respect of which  not only did she get stand 654 Pomona township but also immunity against prosecution from herself and from her colleagues,” he argued.

“Pursuant to that, notwithstanding the fact that the title deed of stand 654 Pomona was being held in escrow as security for amounts owed to Fairclot, and notwithstanding that the president of Zimbabwe did not sign a power of attorney authorising transfer of stand 654 Pomona, stand 654 Pomona was in fact transferred not to Augur Investments but to a satellite company of Augur Investments, Doorex Private Limited.”

Reza then vehemently protested against Biti’s submissions saying they were offside, and not related to the case on trial.

Reza said the Airport Road contract and payments were done above board. He argued that this was evidenced by the City of Harare’s acceptance to settle debt owed to Augur Investments.

“The airport road highway contract was above board and the payments to Augur were in good faith and due to the work done,” he said.

“This has been confirmed by the City of Harare as evidenced by its acceptance to settle the debt owed to Augur.

“It is a complete fallacy to try and link the airport highway and an assault case which Mr Biti is standing trial for.

“(The) 2008 events, which were above board have no bearing on the assault charge being faced by Biti.”

The trial is set to resume on October 18.

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