Editor and executive of Zimbabwe newspaper bailed on fraud charges

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The editor of Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper and a former executive at the paper were freed on bail yesterday after being arrested on fraud charges.

Geoff Nyarota, the editor of The Daily News, which is critical of the government, said the charges were a clumsy attempt to put pressure on his newspaper. He added: "Nothing whatsoever will make me change the policy of my newspaper. This was just a minor irritation."

Mr Nyarota, 50, was picked up in a dawn raid on his home on Thursday. The police also arrested Wilf Mbanga, 54, who helped him launch the newspaper three years ago. They were held overnight in a small, dirty cell.

The charges against them arose from a letter their accountants wrote to the government in 1998 wrongly calling the newspaper's parent company Motley Investments instead of Motley Trading.

Police claim the men also misled officials by saying they had Z$24m(£300,000) in initial capital when they only had Z$5.3m. Police also said they had launched a daily newspaper when the men had said they were starting a weekly.

Their lawyer, Eric Matinenga, told Weston Nyamwanza, the magistrate: "There is simply nothing on the facts which points to them having committed any offence."

Mr Nyamwanza freed the men on Z$10,000 bail while magistrates consider their plea to throw out fraud charges.

Mr Matinenga said police had failed to make even a cursory investigation into the charges and he said the arrests were "an abuse of process" meant to harass the men.

Vincent Shava, for the prosecution, said there was "reasonable suspicion" that the journalists had committed fraud, since they never tried to correct the error over their company name.

Earlier, the government demanded The Daily News be closed down because of alleged irregularities with Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, which is owned by Motley Trading. Mr Nyarota said the newspaper would continue to be published.

The government has long been critical of the newspaper, which President Robert Mugabe says is a front for efforts by Britain to sabotage his land reform programme.(AP)