- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe Hundreds of chanting war veterans who are behind the occupations of more than 1,000 white-owned farms marched on Zimbabwe's High Court yesterday in an attempt to disrupt a corruption trial of their leader Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi.
After weeks of political intimidation, farm violence and the murder of more than a dozen opposition party supporters, the case is a crucial contest between the rule of law and the forces of brute political power.
As the leader of Zimbabwe's War Veterans Association, Dr. Hunzvi is arguably the second-most-influential man in Zimbabwe, after President Robert Mugabe.
Mr. Mugabe effectively set the veterans of Zimbabwe's 1980 independence war from Britain above the law by refusing to remove them from occupied farms or halt a nationwide campaign of violence against opposition supporters.
Against that charged political background, the crowd's loud show of support rattled High Court Judge Paddington Garwe, who held up the session for two hours, complaining that the veterans posed a threat to the court.
Yesterday's trial resumed only after Dr. Hunzvi went outside and a senior Hunzvi aide climbed up the court's iron gates and shouted for supporters to stop chanting.
Elsewhere yesterday, violence continued in the two-month campaign to seize white-owned farms and intimidate opposition-party supporters.
Government supporters armed with axes and iron bars abducted five persons from a village in eastern Zimbabwe, killing the brother of an opposition candidate for parliament, a family member said.
The murder, if confirmed by police, would be the 15th linked to Zimbabwe's land and political crises that have upped the stakes ahead of parliamentary elections expected next month.
The war veterans' leader, Dr. Hunzvi, was charged in November 1999 with defrauding in 1995 the War Victims Compensation Fund, set up to pay veterans for injuries during Zimbabwe's war against white rule.
Prosecutors have charged Dr. Hunzvi regarding three suspect claims, but have ignored a far broader scandal that reveals how Dr. Hunzvi rose rapidly from obscurity.
He endeared himself to the political elite by certifying that dozens of high party officials suffered from apparently nonexistent war injuries, making them eligible for a payout.
Prosecutors argued that Dr. Hunzvi, a physician trained in Poland, signed his own fraudulent medical examination as well as false claims by relatives.
In 1998, a commission of inquiry concluded that "It was clear that Dr. Hunzvi deliberately set out to defraud the state through influencing his relatives to file applications for compensation and then facilitating the successful processing of claims."
The inquiry includes a list of medical claims signed by Dr. Hunzvi that reads like a who's who of Zimbabwe's political and military elite.
Acting Minister of Agriculture Joyce Mujuru and former Vice President Joshua Nkomo's widow, Johanna, testified at the inquiry that they were not even examined by Dr. Hunzvi but had medical exams signed by him.
Some of his war veteran comrades have asked police to investigate the theft of several million Zimbabwean dollars from Zexcom, an investment fund set up by veterans from which Dr. Hunzvi is believed to have misappropriated funds.
"Hunzvi is trying to protect himself. He faces a lot of criminal cases. His only salvation is to campaign vigorously for [the ruling] ZANU-PF [Party]," said one senior veteran in Zexcom's leadership who asked not to be named for fear of his life.
Dr. Hunzvi, known by his middle name, Hitler, and his veterans have given Mr. Mugabe a central issue around which to campaign and have become the ruling party's shock troops in suppressing dissent in rural areas.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Nathaniel Sibanda objected to the atmosphere of siege generated by Dr. Hunzvi's supporters: "The circumstances relating to the start of this trial are not conducive. We cannot afford any inflammatory statements."
In London, meanwhile, the commonwealth yesterday dispatched Secretary-General Don McKinnon to visit Zimbabwe this month to convey international outrage over political violence and urge Mr. Mugabe to hold free and fair elections.

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