HARARE, Feb 3 Zimbabwe's Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana appeared at Harare magistrates' court on Tuesday, charged with abuse of public office, and obstructing the course of justice, after he allegedly released on bail two suspects facing serious banditry charges last week.

He was arrested on Monday, and spent the night in custody, becoming the highest serving judicial official to be nabbed for a suspected crime.

Tomana was arrested together with his chief law officer Michael Mugabe, but the latter was released shortly after on the same day.

Tomana is accused of releasing Solomon Makumbe and Silas Pfupa - who are serving officers in the Zimbabwe National Army and are part of a four-member gang that allegedly plotted to bomb President Robert Mugabe's dairy business premises in Mazoe - on bail, yet they faced serious charges.

Other members of the group, Borman Ngwenya and Owen Kuchata -- were kept in custody when the four appeared in court last week. Ngwenya is a retired police officer, while Kuchata is a member of a little known political party, Zimbabwe People's Front.

The gang allegedly planned to destroy the President's dairy business, and had also surveyed the area around his rural home in Zvimba with the intention of similarly bombing it.

The four were allegedly intercepted by police in Mazoe trying to carry out their mission.

The prosecution said the motive of the four in bombing President Mugabe business was to force him to step down.

In court, the prosecution contended that the allegations the four were facing were so serious that Tomana's release of Makumbe and Pfupa on bail amounted to abuse of public office and obstruction of justice.

The four were brought back to court on Tuesday, and additional charges - including treason - were levelled against them. Makumbe and Pfupa, beneficiaries of what the prosecution said was fraudulent bail, were denied freedom this time.

Magistrate Douglas Chikwekwe, in denying the gang bail, advised the four to try their luck at the High Court. He remanded them to Feb 16.

Tomana, through his lawyer Advocate Thabani Mpofu, also applied for bail, but the State led by Timothy Makoni opposed the application, arguing the top law officer might interfere with investigations since some of the witnesses were his subordinates.

But Magistrate Chikwekwe granted Tomana $1,000 bail and ordered him to report thrice a week at Harare Central Police Station Criminal Investigations Departmentsion. He was also ordered to surrender his passport to the court, reside at his Glen Lorne home as well as not to interfere with investigations.

When granting him bail, Chikwekwe said he was convinced that Tomana is not a flight risk and would stand trial.

He was also remanded to Feb 16.

The case is the latest in which Tomana is caught up. Last year, the Constitutional Court ordered him to proceed with a private prosecution case which he had quashed or face jail. He complied with the order and avoided jail.

Again last year, Tomana courted controversy when he allegedly advocated for the age of consent for marriage for girls be lowered from 18 to 12. The issue touched a storm, with women rights groups and First Lady Grace Mugabe leading protests against the suggestion.

Source: New Ziana