Fugitive R10m fraudster nabbed, faces extradition

The Herald

Daniel Nemukuyu Investigations Editor

CORDIAL relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa have led to the arrest of a fugitive who swindled a South African company of over R10 million, jumped bail and later sneaked into Zimbabwe where he lay low for almost five years.

Reginald Bernstein was last week arrested in Zimbabwe after a successful extradition application by South Africa at the High Court in Harare.

While there is no formal extradition agreement between South Africa and Zimbabwe, Government rendered mutual legal assistance in terms of the Extradition (Designated Countries) Order of 1990, which designated South Africa as one of the nations to which the Government can seek or render assistance in extradition cases.

In terms of the Extradition Act, Zimbabwe’s chief law officer Mr Chris Mutangadura argued the application on behalf of the South African Government.

This comes at a time when Zimbabwe has three pending extradition requests for its own fugitives from justice, who are hiding in South Africa.

Ex-ministers, Saviour Kasukuwere and Walter Mzembi are among those on Zimbabwe’s wanted list.

The National Prosecuting Authority pushing for their extradition to face prosecution on criminal charges for acts allegedly committed while they were still holding public office.

In the Bernstein case, Justice Felistus Chatukuta found merit in the extradition request and granted the order sought in 2019.

Last week, police stubmbled upon Bernstein in Bulawayo and took him to court where he was committed to prison pending extradition to South Africa.

Bernstein, who enjoys both Zimbabwean and South African citizenship, allegedly swindled his former employer, Dainfern Golf Estate and Country Club’s Home Owners’ Association, of over R1 million and transferred it into his wife’s bank account.

He was employed as an accountant. When he appeared at the Specialised Commercial Crime Court in South Africa in 2016, he was freed on bail but fled to Zimbabwe. 

A warrant of arrest was issued against Bernstein and a manhunt began. Intelligence gathered by the South African police revealed Bernstein was hiding somewhere in Zimbabwe.

Cooperation between Zimbabwe and South Africa led to a successful application for the suspect’s committal to prison pending extradition.

The South African Government will meet all the costs associated with the extradition of Bernstein.

He was charged with fraud when he appeared at the Specialised Commercial Crime Court in Johannesburg. Upon release on bail, he was ordered to surrender his South African passport, which he did. But in 2016, Bernstein vanished, having managed to get a Zimbabwean passport, and police investigations revealed that he had dual citizenship and had fled to Zimbabwe.

Being Zimbabwean by birth, Bernstein reportedly obtained a Zimbabwean passport for use while in hiding.

A request was made to the Zimbabwean Government resulting in the Ministry of Home Affairs issuing a warrant of provisional arrest in terms of Section 25 (3) of the Extradition Act.

Bernstein was arrested in March 2018 in Victoria Falls. 

A month later, an application for extradition was filed before a Victoria Falls magistrate but was dismissed because the State had no original documents from South Africa.

Mr Mutangadura, who heads the Asset Forfeiture Unit, took over the case on appeal at the High Court and argued the matter until the court ordered the extradition of the fugitive.

Former Cabinet minister Saviour Kasukuwere, who Zimbabwe wants extradited, needs to answer to four counts of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer.

The first three counts arise from the time when Kasukuwere was Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister and allegedly corruptly parcelled out over 220 hectares of land in Harare and Masvingo to the sister of former First Lady Grace Mugabe, Shuvai Gumbochuma.

The other count dates back to when as Minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, he allegedly and corruptly awarded a tender to a company called Brainworks Capital.

Government is awaiting response from South Africa following a request to have another former Cabinet Minister, Walter Mzembi, extradited for trial on theft and fraud charges.

Mzembi skipped bail while on remand on charges of criminal abuse of duty and theft of trust funds involving US$847 000.

Mzembi allegedly committed the offences when he was Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and was spearheading Zimbabwe’s co-hosting of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Conference in August 2013.

He is believed to be staying in South Africa since he skipped bail on the criminal charges some two years ago.

Kenya is also expected to respond to Zimbabwe’s request for the extradition of former Minister Jonathan Moyo, who is accused of diverting US$244 575 from the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund.

The Herald