Zimbabwe first lady Mugabe given immunity in assault case

Grace Mugabe, wife of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, escaped criminal prosecution for assault via diplomatic immunity and returned to her homeland over the weekend. File Photo by Aaron Ufulelui/EPA

Aug. 22 (UPI) — Zimbabwe first lady Grace Mugabe was given diplomatic immunity to leave South Africa and return to Harare this weekend, amid accusations of assault.

Mugabe, 52, left Johannesburg for Zimbabwe on Sunday — days after she was accused of beating fashion model Gabriella Engels at a Johannesburg-area resort.

Engels said Mugabe burst into a hotel room on Aug. 13 and beat her with an extension cord as 10 bodyguards watched. Mugabe was at the resort to visit her two sons. Engels said Mugabe accused her of living with her adult sons.

Engels told a South African broadcaster, “There was blood everywhere. She flipped and just kept beating me with the plug. Over and over. I had no idea what was going on. I was surprised. I needed to crawl out of the room before I could run away,” The New York Times reported.

This occasion marks the second time Mugabe has been granted diplomatic immunity — a special status given to world leaders and diplomats to shield them from prosecution. In 2009, she left Hong Kong amid accusations she attacked a photographer.

Mugabe’s history of extravagant shopping habits has been a source of controversy in Zimbabwe.

A statement by a government spokeswoman said she “recognized the immunities and privileges” of Grace Mugabe.

While it may be difficult to criminally prosecute Mugabe with immunity, a civil suit is still possible.

The incident and the use of diplomatic immunity has increased tension between Zimbabwe — where President Robert Mugabe, 93, has ruled as prime minister and president since 1980 — and South Africa, which has been criticized by the global community for laxness in enforcing international law.

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