HK pilot faces fraud charge

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong pilot Brent Smyth, detained at an airport in Zimbabwe this week as he prepared to transport the main opposition presidential candidate to election rallies, has been charged with fraud, media reports say.

Smyth, 32, was arrested at Charles Prince Airport, near the southern African nation's capital, Harare, on Tuesday as he was about to fly Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to campaign in remote areas.

South African media reports said he had been charged with fraud because he had occupied a hotel room booked by somebody else.

The allegations were described as 'a ridiculous excuse' by an MDC leader.

Diplomats from the South African and British embassies had been granted access to the helicopter pilot, a Hong Kong permanent resident with British and South African citizenship, his father, Derek, said in Hong Kong.

Efforts to have his son - who works for a South Africa-based air charter company - released were made immediately after he was arrested.

Mr Smyth said he had lost direct contact with his son through text message, as his son's mobile phone had run out of power.

The family has also sought help from the Hong Kong Immigration Department, which has said it would offer any assistance it could to the family.

The pilot's mother, Danielle, is planning to fly to South Africa on Monday to join relatives in the country, who are closely monitoring the situation.

His father added: 'We know the political situation in Zimbabwe is quite complicated. Yet we do hope Brent can be released over the next couple of days.'

Press reports in South Africa said an MDC member, one of the three people arrested by the police in addition to the pilot on Tuesday, had been released later that day.

Mr Tsvangirai is the main opponent to President Robert Mugabe in Saturday's election.