Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grace Mugabe gets diplomatic immunity for assault charge

By Lance Guma
23 March 2009

First Lady Grace Mugabe will escape prosecution from charges that she assaulted a British photographer in Hong Kong, after she was granted diplomatic immunity. In January Grace flew into a rage after Richard Jones took pictures of her as she left the five-star Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel, with a female friend and a bodyguard. The bodyguard pinned the photographer to the ground while the first lady struck him repeatedly in the face. A diamond encrusted ring she was wearing caused cuts to his face. But on Sunday authorities in Hong Kong confirmed long held fears that Grace was entitled to diplomatic immunity, as the wife of a sitting head of state.
The photographer reacted furiously to the decision saying; ‘I think it’s a disgrace for the Hong Kong government to allow a person to walk on a street in Hong Kong, punch a member of the media, and walk free from it.
This is a town where the freedom of the media is a strong tradition,’ he told the AFP news agency. Michael Vidler, the lawyer representing Jones, said they had secured CCTV footage and statements from witnesses, which was enough to provide strong evidence against Grace in court. They also felt the lacerations to Jones face were serious enough to warrant a charge of ‘wounding’ rather than the more minor ‘common assault’ charge.

Although Hong Kong is a self governing territory, matters relating to defence and foreign affairs are controlled by China. In this case Hong Kong’s Department of Justice issued a statement saying: ‘Grace Mugabe is not liable to arrest or detention, and enjoys immunity from prosecution,’ and that these rights fall under Chinese regulations on diplomatic immunity and privileges. However Michael Sheridan, who is the Far East correspondent for the Sunday Times newspaper, said ‘diplomatic immunity should not be a shield for unacceptable and illegal behaviour.’

While over half the country faces starvation, Grace has been accused of regularly raiding the Reserve Bank for hundreds of thousands of United States dollars to fund her lavish shopping trips abroad. The Mugabe’s were also reported to have bought an expensive mansion in Hong Kong, although they denied this. Their daughter Bona Mugabe is also alleged to be attending a university in Hong Kong, despite denials from the Universities there. She is thought to be studying under a false name.
SW Radio Africa Zimbabwe news

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