, HARARE, May 10 – A judge on Monday acquitted Roy Bennett, a top aide to Zimbabwe\’s prime minister, in an alleged plot to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, in a case that has strained the unity government.
"Having carefully considered the facts, I come to the conclusion that the state has failed to prove a prima facie case. The accused is accordingly found not guilty," said Judge Chinembiri Bhunu.
The 53-year-old former white farmer was Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai\’s pick for deputy agriculture minister in the year-old unity government.
But he was arrested in February 2009, shortly before he was to be sworn in, over terror charges stemming from accusations that he had funded a plot to topple Mugabe four years ago.
Bennett welcomed the decision, as his supporters who packed the gallery applauded and hugged him.
"This is welcome. One hopes we will now move into an era of justice and rule of law," Bennett told AFP outside the court.
"Today I am going to have a proper sleep," he added in the local Shona language.
His acquittal could pave the way for Bennett to finally take office. Mugabe has said he must be cleared by the court before taking up the post.
The plot had already been discredited by a court in an earlier case, making Bennett\’s trial a major source of conflict in the fragile power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.