Freelance journalist, Simbarashe Sithole, who among other publications writes for Bulawayo 24 News, yesterday appeared in court for allegedly trying to extort a company of US$400 for him to take one story off a website and spike the follow-up story that he had written about them.
Sithole appeared before Harare regional magistrate Mrs Marehwanazvo Gofa charged with extortion after being arrested by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission in a trap.
He was granted $50 000 bail and will be back in court on June 8.
The complainant is West Properties Holdings represented by its public relations manager Mr Michael Chideme.
The State alleged that on April 3, Sithole published a news article on the Bulawayo 24 news website about West Properties.
The story stated that the company was misleading investors in its bid to list on the stock exchange, a statement the company felt was malicious and untrue.
On April 6, Mr Chideme was assigned by his company to look into the matter as the news was detrimental to its listing.
He met Sithole at Pariah State Bar along Sam Nujoma Street Extension to discuss the issue and Sithole indicated he was agreeable to having the offending article removed from the website, but laid out some monetary conditions without specifying the amount.
On the same date, Mr Chideme apprised his employers about the conditions given for the article to be taken down.
His employers wanted to know the price.
On Tuesday this week, Mr Chideme went and met Sithole at a fuel station opposite the Zimbabwe Agricultural Showgrounds, along Samora Machel Avenue, where he openly demanded US$400 to remove the article.
He further stated that he had another article that he was on the verge of posting for publication, but was amenable to abort on condition they pay another undisclosed figure.
Mr Chideme then updated his employers about Sithole’s demands and they decided to report the matter to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC).
Consequently, they mandated Mr Chideme to report the alleged events to the commission and a report was made on the same date and a trap was conducted using US$400.
This led to the arrest of Sithole by ZACC after he had received the money.