A High Court judge has ordered government and the police to release within seven days, a South African-registered vehicle they seized in Harare from one Jeffrey Hondo Gwisai while claiming it had been stolen from the neighbouring country.
The order was directed at the Home Affairs Minister, the Police Commissioner General and the police Officer-in-Charge Vehicle Theft Squad.
Justice Tawanda Chitapi recently heard how in November 2018, police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Vehicle Theft Squad seized a South African-registered Toyota GD6 2.8 Station Wagon from Gwisai’s residence in Ashdown Park, Harare.
The police claimed verbally to Gwisai that the vehicle had been reported stolen in South Africa before they towed it away.
Gwisai disputed this informing the police he had purchased the car from one Charles Kwarambo on 1 November 2018 for US$22 000.
After the purchase, the vehicle was allowed into Zimbabwe by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) on a temporary permit before Gwisai parked it at his house pending its clearance and payment of duty to ZIMRA.
However, on 4 November 2018, one Donnay-Reze Landman, a South African made a report at Kempton Park Police Station in South Africa reporting the vehicle in question had been stolen.
Landman claimed Kwarambo had hired the vehicle from him, but did not return it after the hire period had expired.
Interpol was informed of the breach of contract, leading to the seizure of the vehicle by the police in Harare.
Repeated efforts by Gwisai to secure the release of the vehicle were fruitless, forcing him to approach the High Court.
However, in court, Landman failed to produce proof of hire of the vehicle by Kwarambo, any documents of ownership of the vehicle or supporting affidavit to verify the alleged theft.
Kwarambo managed to produce a registration book, which showed the vehicle was in his name.
The lack of proof by Landman led Justice Chitapi to order Home Affairs Minister Cain Mathema, Commissioner General of Police Godwin Matanga and the Officer-in-Charge Vehicle Theft Squad, to return the vehicle to Gwisai within seven days.
“The report of theft of the vehicle remains an unsupported and bald allegation. Ownership of a motor vehicle cannot be proven by a mere say so of a claimant (Landman). Whilst the registration book may not be conclusive proof of ownership, it connects the person indicated as owner to the motor vehicle,” Justice Chitapi said in his ruling.
“The supposed complainant did not produce to the third respondent or his officers, proof of hire of the vehicle by Charles Kwarambo nor any documents of ownership of the vehicle by the supposed complainant or did not provide a supporting affidavit to verify the alleged theft of the motor vehicle. The applicant was left with no option but to petition the court for relief.
“Common sense and logic dictate that the third respondent and his station should have called for documents of ownership of the vehicle by the supposed complainant and authenticated the claim. This was not done,” he said.