Hong Kong 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 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 reported that 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. Reports said he would appear in court yesterday.

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.

Brent Smyth works for a South Africa-based air charter company.

The Hong Kong Immigration Department 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 there.

His father said: '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 with the pilot on Tuesday, had been released that day.

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