Mugabe's wife given diplomatic immunity over Hong Kong assault
The wife of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has been granted diplomatic immunity over an alleged attack on a newspaper photographer in Hong Kong, officials said Sunday.
The city's Department of Justice decided 43-year-old Grace Mugabe is entitled to immunity despite a police investigation that concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute her over the January 15 incident, dpa reported.
Grace Mugabe is accused of repeatedly punching Richard Jones, chief photographer of Hong Kong photo agency Sinopix, when he took pictures of her shopping.
The incident happened when Grace Mugabe was staying in a five-star hotel with her entourage as part of a luxury Asian holiday reportedly funded with 92,000 US dollars withdrawn from Harare's central bank by her husband.
News of Grace Mugabe's holiday and alleged assault made headlines worldwide at a time when Zimbabwe was suffering from chronic poverty, a cholera epidemic and a political crisis.
Two independent witnesses, including an Austrian tourist said to have watched the incident "open-mouthed", gave statements and police concluded in a report to the Department of Justice that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute, sources familiar with the investigation said.
However, in a statement Sunday, the Department of Justice cited mainland China's Regulations Concerning Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges, which it said applied to Hong Kong.
"We have ascertained that Grace Mugabe is not liable to arrest or detention and enjoys immunity from criminal jurisdiction," it said.
A spokesman for the department declined to say if Grace Mugabe had requested diplomatic immunity or whether it had been automatically granted.
Grace Mugabe, whose daughter Bona is a university student in Hong Kong, flew home to Zimbabwe before Jones reported the alleged assault two days after the incident.
A police spokesman said she had not been interviewed in person or by phone before the case was passed to the Department of Justice.
"I'm very disappointed but at the same time I'm not surprised," the 42-year-old Jones said.
"It's appalling that this woman can come to Hong Kong and behave like that without being held to account. But from the moment I made the complaint of assault, I realised I'd probably never see Grace Mugabe across a court of law."
Lawyer Michael Vidler argued that the cuts and bruises inflicted on Jones were serious enough to merit a charge of wounding rather than common assault, and a potential jail term.
International law expert Simon Young said that under Hong Kong's mini-constitution Grace Mugabe was entitled to the same diplomatic privileges she would enjoy in China, even though Zimbabwe has no mission in Hong Kong.
"What could make this case interesting is if Robert Mugabe ceases to be in power. If that happened, her diplomatic immunity would no longer apply," he said.
"In theory, Grace Mugabe could be charged if she came back to Hong Kong and her husband was no longer in office - although in those circumstances, she might be apply to apply for state immunity which can apply to former heads of state and their family members."
The only previous recent case of diplomatic immunity being claimed in Hong Kong for a serious crime involved a former Vietnamese consul-general who was arrested for allegedly groping a woman's bottom in a busy shopping area.