By Daniel Nemukuyu
THE High Court has ordered a Harare family to pay damages amounting to $20 000 to a lawyer it got arrested on unfounded fraud allegations. Mr Tinashe Zenda Hungwe, who was appointed executor to the estate of the siblings’ late father, was arrested for allegedly selling properties without the beneficiaries’ knowledge.
It later turned out to be a false story and Mr Hungwe was found not guilty and acquitted. When he was arrested, the lawyer was humiliated and spent four days in police custody.
He even suffered negative media publicity as stories of his arrest and prosecution were picked by several media houses.
After his acquittal, Mr Hungwe sued the siblings — Veronica Duro, Kushinga Nedi, Tariro Nedi, Rebecca Rusere and Monica Mudavanhu — for malicious prosecution.
He claimed $139 000, broken down as follows: $25 000 for legal costs incurred, $100 000 for contumelia and $14 000 for loss of earnings. However, on November 23 this year, Justice Philda Muzofa ruled in favour of the lawyer, but reduced the total claim to $20 000.
“Accordingly, the following order is made that,
1 the defendants shall pay the plaintiff, jointly and severally, the one paying the other to be absolved, an amount of $20 000 for damages arising from malicious prosecution, together with interest at the rate of 5 percent per annum from February 28, 2014 to the date of final payment.
2 The defendants shall pay, jointly and severally, the one paying the other to be absolved, the costs of this suit on attorney-client scale.”
Justice Muzofa said Mr Hungwe’s image was tarnished as a result of the criminal proceedings. “There is no doubt that the incarceration and subsequent prosecution tarnished his image and professional standing. Whatever perception the public holds of a lawyer, affects their practice. In this case, the negative perception was built.
“The plaintiff was not only maliciously prosecuted, the matter was reported in the Herald titled ‘Lawyer accused of theft’,” said Justice Muzofa.
The judge said chances were high that Mr Hungwe lost clients as a result of the malicious arrest and prosecution.
“I would not be surprised if he lost clients during the period in question,” the judge said.
During the hearing, the court heard that the five lodged a fraud report at CID Fraud Squad against Mr Hungwe on May 25, 2013.
They wrongfully and maliciously set in motion criminal proceedings of fraud against Mr Hungwe by giving false information to the police that, the lawyer and one Lucia Nedi had connived to sell a house known as number 3 Bradfield, Hopley, to Morepad Investments Private Limited.
Allegations were that three more stands belonging to the beneficiaries to the estate, were also fraudulently sold, causing a financial prejudice to the tune of USD$190 000.
The prosecuting authority then, on two occasions, declined to prosecute the lawyer, but the family protested resulting in the weak case being referred to court.
The family members also maligned the lawyer in higher offices, including the office of the President when he had no case to answer at all.