Despite the recent ouster of former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, the African nation is pressing ahead with a legal battle he launched three years ago against a Taiwan-born South African businessman over a HK$40 million (US$5 million) villa in Hong Kong.
At a pretrial session at the city’s High Court on Wednesday, scheduled after the last mediation session in May 2015 proved unsuccessful, lawyers for both the Zimbabwe government and Hsieh Ping Sung discussed arrangements for the trial, such as the legal issues involved and whether they would need interpreters.
The Zimbabwe government’s claim against Hsieh centres on a two-storey house in Tai Po, which land records show Hsieh’s company Cross Global paid HK$40 million for in June 2008.
Earlier media reports said Mugabe claimed the villa belonged to the government, and his daughter had been “borrowing” it, as she lived there while studying at City University.
But Hsieh reportedly claimed it belonged to him all along.
The trial date, which had been set earlier, is on March 6. The court heard that four witnesses would be called during the hearing, including Hsieh and a local estate agent. It remained unclear if Mugabe or his family members would be asked to testify or had submitted any statements.
Mr Justice Godfrey Lam Wan-ho asked if Hsieh would need an interpreter, as it appeared he spoke Mandarin. His lawyers said that, having lived in South Africa for some time, Hsieh would testify in English.
In 2014, the Zimbabwe government, then still led by Mugabe, lodged a lawsuit against Hsieh and Cross Global at the High Court, claiming that the businessman was merely holding the villa at JC Castle estate on trust.
It asked the court to declare it was the “100 per cent beneficial” owner of the villa, according to court documents.
Mugabe, 93, reluctantly stepped down last month after a controversial 37 years in power. While he once enjoyed international praise for bringing Zimbabwe to independence, he left office remembered for his autocratic rule and mismanagement of the economy. His resignation, which came after the military put him under house arrest, was celebrated by many Zimbabweans who were unhappy with how Mugabe had tried to position his wife Grace as his successor.
The new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who came from the same party as Mugabe, Zanu-PF, has since announced plans to stem graft and revive the moribund economy.
This article first appeared on South China Morning Post