By A Correspondent- The High Court has blocked the release by Zimra of vehicles imported by 53 people as it is suspected they were brought into the country using fake import licences in what is a far-reaching swathe of sneaky dealings in the vehicle import business.
Zimra is holding a large batch of vehicles at the behest of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, which is investigating several of its officials on allegations of corruptly issuing import licences for older second-hand vehicles.
More than eight import licence books went missing in April this year.
The 53 vehicle importers, among them car dealers, had approached the High Court on an urgent basis seeking to compel Zimra to release their vehicles.
They listed Zimra, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission(ZACC) and the Minister of Industry and Commerce as respondents.
But already, some of the import licences have been traced back to the missing licence books, the High Court was told and so Justice Esther Muremba ruled the application was not urgent and tossed it out.
In her ruling, Justice Muremba said the vehicles were imported using fake licences and were still under investigation by ZACC.
“There was no compliance with the law. It does not matter that the applicants might have not played any role in the issuance of the fake import licences,” she said.
In opposing the application, ZACC said it was investigating a case of corruption regarding the vehicles, arguing they were subjects of illegal import licences or permits.
Although it was the Ministry officials who issued the illegal import licences, it was argued that the investigations were being done to establish whether or not there was connivance with the applicants.
On its part, the ministry argued that the import licences that were used to import the applicants’ vehicles are fake, and so the detention of the vehicles was justified at law.
Justice Muremba in the ruling found the explanation that was given by the Industry Minister for suspecting collusion between the applicants and the Ministry officials who issued fake import licences was sound.
“Clearly from the foregoing, the relief that is being sought by the applicants is such that it cannot be sought on an urgent basis in view of the investigations that are still on going,” she said.
“This is one case where preferential treatment of applicants’ case is not possible because investigations into fake import licences have not yet completed by the second and third respondents (ZACC and the Industry Ministry).”
Justice Muremba said non-legal remedies might have worked well for the applicants before they rushed to court. They could have worked with ZACC to expedite investigations.
She said the applicants could not rush to court to enforce an illegality.
“Clearly the applicants jumped the gun and there cannot be any urgency in the matter,” said the judge striking the matter from the roll of urgent matters.
The applicants all paid import duty and the vehicles were delivered into the country through Beitbridge Border Post. At the instance of Zimra, the vehicles were delivered to different bonded warehouses or transit sheds for storage. That is where the applicants were supposed to collect them.
However, when the applicants went to collect their vehicles, they were not allowed to collect them because the import licences which they used to import the vehicles were said to be under investigations. Government this year, introduced Statutory Instrument I89, which barred imports of motor vehicles that are more than 10 years old from the date of manufacture without clearance.