18 January 2013

Tanzania: Witness Disowns Sheikh Ponda

THE defence on Thursday grilled prosecution witness Mr Hafidh Othman to account legal ownership of a plot which has been at the centre of dispute in the trial of Secretary General of the Council of Islamic Organization, Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda.

The four acres plot is situated at Markaz, Chang'ombe area in Temeke District in Dar es Salaam, for which Agritanza Limited, where Mr Othman is a consultant, claims ownership after having legally obtained it from the Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata).Mr Othman was giving evidence in the case in which Sheikh Ponda and his 49 co-accused are charged with committing crimes of conspiracy, trespassing and criminal possession of property owned by Agritanza Limited.

Led by Senior State Attorney Tumaini Kweka at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court, the witness, also a business partner in Agritanza Limited, said they offered 40 acres of land located at Kisarawe to Bakwata in exchange of the Chang'ombe plot.But in cross-examination by defence counsel Mr Juma Nassoro, the fifth prosecution witness admitted that the Kisarawe plot is owned by another company known as Al-Hillary Ceramics, where he is also a business partner.

Mr Othman also admitted that even the contract in which Agritanza Limited signed with Bakwata to transact the exchange of plots, does not indicate that Al-Hillary Ceramics company had consented to its plot being used to seal the deal in question.In further cross-examination, the witness told Resident Magistrate Victoria Nongwa that his company never conducted any evaluation of the two plots before signing the contract for exchange of the two lands.

During examination in chief, Mr Othman said after acquiring the Chang'ombe plot, they started developing the land, including splitting the land in two by erecting a wall. One part of the land was reserved for Agritanza Limited and the other left for Al-Hillary Ceramics, according to the witness.

But in October last year, he alleged, a watchman at the plot called and informed him that Sheikh Ponda had gone to the area where he surveyed and took some pictures. "I talked with Sheikh Ponda over the phone and we agreed to meet in order to discuss the matter. We later met at Mtambani Mosque where Sheikh Ponda told me that Bakwata was not right to sell the land," Mr Othman said.

The witness explained further that Sheikh Ponda promised to look for another plot in Mkuranga for the company instead of taking possession of the Chang'ombe plot and that he would report back to him after a few days.He, however, claimed that Sheikh Ponda never lived up to his promise and instead he and some other people invaded the plot and started building a structure therein.

In the case, the prosecution has also charged the accused with stealing building materials from Agritanza Limited including 1,500 bricks and 36 tonnes of aggregate and iron bars, all worth 59.6m/-. The case has been set for another hearing on January 30 this year.

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