, HARARE, Mar 31 – Authorities in Zimbabwe on Wednesday slapped Roy Bennett, a top aide to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, with charges of breaching grain laws as the verdict in his treason trial was postponed.
Police summoned Bennett, a white Zimbabwean and former tobacco farmer, to appear in court next week to answer charges of being in possession in 2001 of 92 tonnes of maize that he did not declare to authorities.
His lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, described the new charges as "harassment".
"They are anticipating that he will be acquitted (on the treason charges) and now they serve him with this," Mtetwa told journalists outside court.
Bennett is accused of plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe in 2006 in a conspiracy already dismissed by the courts in an earlier case.
Judge Chinembiri Bhunu said his verdict in the treason trial was held up by technical delays.
"I was supposed to deliver the judgment today (Wednesday) but we have had delays in preparing the transcript," he said. "The judgment could be ready in the second week of May."
Bennett was Tsvangirai\’s pick for deputy agriculture minister in the power-sharing government that he formed last year with Mugabe.
According to the new summons, on October 22, 2001 he was "unlawfully found in possession of 92.289 metric tonnes of maize, which he did not declare to authorities, in terms of the Grain Marketing Board Act."
Bennett said the maize was meant to feed workers at his farm and that it was seized by soldiers.
His treason trial has been a major source of conflict in the fragile unity accord between Tsvangirai and Mugabe.
It also prompted Tsvangirai\’s decision to boycott the power-sharing government with Mugabe\’s camp, which he accused of being "dishonest and unreliable".
Bennett was arrested in February 2009 shortly before he was to be sworn in minister, and later freed on bail. Mugabe has said he must be cleared by the court before taking up the post.