Details of an alleged plot by the Zimbabwean opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to assassinate President Robert Mugabe before next month's election and seize power in a coup assisted by the army were broadcast on Australian television last night.
A documentary aired on SBS featured excerpts from a surveillance video that purportedly showed Mr Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), discussing with British and Canadian associates plans to "eliminate" Mr Mugabe at a meeting in Montreal in December last year. The opposition party dismissed the allegations yesterday.
According to the film maker, Mark Davis, a Canadian firm of political consultants called Dickens and Madson were promised $500,000 (£350,000) and lucrative contracts for killing Mr Mugabe. Documents obtained by Mr Davis allegedly show that down-payments of $147,400 were channelled through a British firm.
In a statement to SBS, Dickens and Madson said they had had no intention of fulfilling the contract and were now co-operating with the Zimbabwean government.
Mr Tsvangirai and an unidentified "fixer" allegedly attended two meetings in London in October and November with a principal of Dickens and Madson at which terms were agreed. The Canadians maintain Mr Tsvangirai personally requested the assassination at the start of their first meeting.
The third meeting in Montreal, which was secretly filmed, is said to have been attended by three employees of the Canadian firm, a mysterious Briton, an unidentified American and Mr Tsvangirai.
In the fuzzy black-and-white video, it is impossible to distinguish the identity of the six participants. The audio quality is also poor. In the footage, the American notes that the Zimbabwean media are predicting a Mugabe victory and adds: "I think we have certainly proved that fact to be wrong today." One of the Canadians rejoins, to general laughter: "Do coffins win elections?" The latter then says: "The MDC, represented by the top man who's sitting here right now, commits to – let's call it whatever you want to call it – the coup d'etat or the elimination of the President."
The American talks about a "a plan of introducing a transitional government through the termination of Mugabe". The Canadians ask Mr Tsvangirai: "OK, Mr Mugabe is eliminated. Now what? Are you in a position to ensure a smooth transition of power?" He replies: "Yes. I've no doubt about it."
The man alleged to be Mr Tsvangirai claims to have the support of a senior figure in the armed forces and says he hopes for a power-sharing arrangement with the army.
The film alleges that an initial payment of $97,400 was made by a British firm to Dickens and Madson for a "general services contract". A second sum of $50,000 was also allegedly advanced. According to the Canadians, the balance was due once Mr Mugabe had been killed. The programme said there was nothing to indicate that the British firm knew what the payments were for.
The MDC said in a statement yesterday: "The MDC president has no plan, desire or motive to eliminate President Mugabe. The MDC president believes in a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power through the ballot box."
Learnmore Jongwe, a spokesman for Mr Tsvangirai, added: "This assassination story is similar to other stories that have been run ... at the instigation ... of the ruling party."