A 33-YEAR-OLD Kwekwe man has appeared in court after he was arrested while trying to smuggle 28,5 kilogrammes of gold valued at about $1 million into Botswana. The haul is believed to be the single biggest interception of a smuggled mineral at a border post in Zimbabwe. James Ray Tudhope, a resident of Chicago Plots, was yesterday brought before a Plumtree magistrate facing charges of unlawfully possessing gold without a permit or licence.He faces additional charges of smuggling and using a vehicle with a disguised place adapted for purposes of concealing goods. Magistrate Livard Philemon granted him $2,000 bail and remanded him out of custody to October 1. Police intercepted Tudhope in possession of the gold while he was driving a Toyota Hilux single cab vehicle on his way to Botswana on Wednesday at around 8AM.
Philemon granted Tudhope’s bail application on condition that Tudhope reports at Kwekwe Central Police Station three times a week. Further conditions were that he reside at his registered address and desist from interfering with witnesses. Philemon said the State, during its submission in opposing bail, had failed to provide substantive reasons for the opposition.
“The State pointed out as reasons that the accused was likely to interfere with witnesses and that the offence was of serious nature which would cause him to abscond. In the process they didn’t provide any substance to support these claims,” the magistrate ruled.
“The court, therefore, wasn’t satisfied with the reasons given as to why accused isn’t a suitable bail candidate. On the other hand, the defence managed to present a strong debate stating why he is a suitable bail candidate. They presented facts to support that the accused wouldn’t abscond.”
In presenting his bail application, Tudhope’s lawyer Tanaka Muganyi said his client was determined to see the case to its end as he had nothing to fear. He said the offence which Tudhope was alleged to have committed was not as serious as the State was trying to prove. Muganyi said: “My client at this point pleads not guilty, he has no previous convictions or any pending cases. He is a married man with three children and is of fixed aboard. At this point, he has to be viewed as an innocent man as everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“We shouldn’t concentrate on the value attached to this case but the act of possession. My client isn’t any different from someone found in possession of one gram of gold. His case isn’t a special case because similar cases have occurred involving foreign nationals and they’ve been in the past granted bail.”
He emphasised that Tudhope was committed to abide by the conditions set for him by the court. Prosecuting, Jane Phiri said on Wednesday, Tudhope was intercepted by detectives while at the Plumtree Border Post exit gate on his way to Botswana. He said Tudhope arrived at the border and went through all Zimra and immigration formalities.
She said the police requested to search the vehicle and discovered that beneath the mat which was on the floor of the loading box were some secret compartments. Phiri said the police recovered eight small boxes hidden in the secret compartments. “They found 76 pieces of gold which had a total weight of 28,529 kilogrammes hidden in the various boxes. Tudhope was asked to produce a gold licence or permit to possess gold but failed to produce any leading to his immediate arrest,” she said.
Phiri said the total value of gold was $970,000. Opposing bail, Phiri said the offence suspected to have been committed by Tudhope was a serious offence with a mandatory jail sentence of five years. She said investigations were still underway and approval of bail would expose the witnesses to interference by Tudhope.