A Hwange magistrate has accused police and ZimParks rangers of setting a trap on former Victoria Falls Mayor Sifiso Mpofu and his two co-accused to emerge with false allegations of poaching.
The ex-mayor, aged 42, Milton Sibindi (47) and Patrick Sibanda (49) were found not guilty and acquitted of poaching and money laundering on Tuesday.
The three were arrested after allegedly being found with 11 elephant tusks at Mpofu's house.
Allegations were that police on patrol spotted a white Toyota Harrier parked at Mpofu's gate and upon being approached, the vehicle sped off.
Police and rangers, upon checking, found that the gate to Mpofu's house was partly opened and that is when they spotted Mpofu, Sibindi and Sibanda carrying three elephant tusks each going towards the gate.
The three were arrested allegedly after attempting to flee but were stopped when one of the police officers fired a warning shot in the air.
Magistrate Livard Philemon said the arrest of Mpofu and his alleged accomplices was pre-meditated as police and rangers used an informer Elikana Ndlovu to set a trap on the three.
"It is common cause that the number of Elikana Ndlovu communicated with one of the accused and witnesses Amos Gwema and Peter Chiza.
"The witnesses contradicted in their testimonies. While Gwema told the truth, other witnesses prevaricated, hence the state version didn't add up leaving a lot of gaps," said the magistrate.
He said police and rangers deliberately failed to disclose they infact set a trap on Mpofu and his accomplices and made everything seem like they arrested them while carrying out a routine patrols in one of the resort town's suburbs.
"The state witnesses were generally inconsistent in their version of events leading to the arrest hence no meaningful reliance can be placed on it.
"As a result, the court concludes that the accused persons successfully falsified the state case and there is no doubt the case of possession in both counts is fatally affected by this unreliability of the witnesses hence they are found not guilty and acquitted," said the magistrate, much to the relief of the three.
Their lawyer Thulani Nkala of Dube, Nkala and Company had submitted that a state witness who lied in court must be punished by totally disbelieving his or her evidence.
Seven tusks which were unmarked were forfeited to the state while four that were marked were returned back to Mpofu who is a registered safari operator in the Hwange National Park.
In his defence, Mpofu had said he got to know about Ndlovu in December last year who met with Sibindi and alleged he knew a potential investor who wanted to venture into hunting.
On the day of the arrest, Mpofu and accomplices said they were shocked to find a group of police officers surrounding them when they expected to meet Ndlovu and the said investor.
Ndlovu was driving the Toyota Harrier and sped off when police arrived.
Mpofu said the ivory was planted by rangers as they wanted to pin him down.
Prosecutors had alleged that 11 tusks weighing 27.99kg and valued at more than $6 000 were recovered on the night of the arrest.