Mtetwa and Nyambirai Legal Practitioners have been ordered by the High Court to stop disbursing US$57 000 cash that was found in one of their strong rooms during an investigations into a trust funds theft case involving US$32 million.
According to court papers, the money was stashed in a strong room when police stumbled upon it.
Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers were investigating allegations against the firm’s accountant, Tendai Murambiza.
The matter then spilled into the courts after Rugwandi and Rujuwa Legal Practitioners claimed the money belonged to them and had been given to Murambiza for safekeeping by one Mark Rujuwa, who was an associate of Mtetwa and Nyambirayi, from March 2016 to December last year.
Rugwandi is now running his own law firm.
The lawyer told the high court that Mtetwa and Nyambirayi, while recognising that the money is not part of what was stolen by Murambiza, still want to know why it was in their safe in the first place.
He said Mtetwa wanted to use the money to offset what her law firm is owed by Murambiza.
Rugwandi and Rujuwa listed Mtetwa, Tawanda Nyambirai, Mzokuthula Mbuyisa, Douglas Coltart and Murambiza as respondents.
They sought interim orders to compel Mtetwa and Nyambirayi to deposit, in hard currency, US$57 000 with the Registrar of the High Court, pending the finalisation of the case.
They also wanted Mtetwa and Nyambirayi and its staff interdicted from using or dissipating the cash.
High Court judge, Justice Cathrine Bachi-Mzawazi, granted the relief sought.
“One cannot set-off a debt owed between two parties on money belonging to a third party not privy to the credit agreement. The respondents have been aware that the money was entrusted to the fifth respondent (Murambiza). I find no prejudice to the respondents if the alternative interim relief is granted. What the applicants are simply stating is that, we sought safe custody in your strong room, albeit without your knowledge and consent,” the judge said.
“We still feel it is safe for that money to be in your strong room, pending the resolution of the source of dispute now that you are aware. However, respect that money, do not assert any claims to it, until a court of law decides on whether to release the money and to whom it is to be released. Accordingly, the application for an interim dissipation order succeeds in part,” she said.
“Pending the determination of this matter, the applicant is granted the following interim relief; that the respondents be and are hereby interdicted from utilising or disposing the US$57 000, which was placed for safe keeping by the applicant through the fifth respondent in their strongroom.”
Rugwandi and Rujuwa told the court that the money found on 24 or 25 February was in a separate and clearly marked container and it was proven to belong to a client of Rugwandi and Rujuwa, said the draft order.
Rugwandi explained that he performed a transaction for the sale of a property at his law firm after business hours and was worried about security issues.
He said he kept the money with him until the following day, on a Friday, but his worry about security did not abate.
He then spoke to Murambiza, whom he had worked with when he was an associate at Mtetwa and Nyambirai and he said he could keep the money safe in the strongroom over the holiday weekend and return it on Tuesday 22 February.