New Zimbabwe (London)

Zimbabwe: Russian Scribe Arrested in Vic Falls

A RUSSIAN journalist was this week arrested in Victoria Falls while trying to enter the country on false claims he was a Geography teacher on a tour of 18 African countries.

Moscow based Daniel Nikolaev, 32, was on Monday nabbed by alert detectives manning the resort town's border post soon after completing immigration formalities.

After the process, Nikolaev started talking "in an unfamiliar language" on a satellite cellphone, drawing the attention of police who demanded to search his black Jeep Rubicon with Russian registration number, prosecutors said.

Nikolaev was also found in possession of United Nations army wear comprising a jacket, a para-military overall, four military caps and one military pair of trousers.

Police said he lied that he was a UN diplomat when questioned on the source of the military wear.

Realising this would not stick, he changed and said he got the regalia from friends attached to the UN.

Further questioning revealed he was in fact a holder of an international press card for the Russian Geographic Society.

Nikolaev pleaded guilty to "making any statement verbally or in writing which he knew to be false" for the purpose of entering Zimbabwe.

He also pleaded to possessing a radio station without a licence and unlawful possession or wearing of a camouflage when he appeared before Victoria Falls magistrate Sharon Rosemani.

Under Zimbabwean laws, a satellite cellphone is considered a radio station and Nikolaev should have first sought registration before using it, prosecutors said.

"I was not aware that wearing a camouflage was a crime, " said Nikolaev in his defence.

"I was on an expedition on tour of African countries for the past one year six months; I have toured Congo, Cape Town in South Africa, Zambia and now I was in Zimbabwe on my way to other countries.

"My English is not good ... what I meant was that I teach geography at universities free of charge because I have passion for the subject since I am an accredited journalist for Russian National Geographic Station.

"This phone is like a walky-talky and I was using it to communicate with my father and it's not a radio.

"The camouflage is not a proper uniform because it has no badges. I got it from friends in the UN and it is not worn by soldiers. I was wearing it in Congo and no-one said it was not allowed."

However, magistrate Rosemani would have none of that.

She fined him a total of $600 or 18 months in jail for the three offences.

He was fined $200 or six months imprisonment in default on the first charge. He was also made to pay $300 or nine months jail for possessing a radio.

A further $100 fine or three months was imposed for possessing military wear, which was forfeited to the State.

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