Fighting at Glen Forest cemetery draws Zimbabwe into diplomatic incident

HARARE — A diplomatic incident was unfolding on Thursday night after police allegedly chased a suspect at the European Union embassy in Harare.

The target was Joseph Richard Crnkovic, a dual Croatian-Zimbabwean citizen who is embroiled in a nasty battle for control of Glen Forest Memorial Park, a private cemetery in the capital.

National police spokesman Deputy Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “We don’t have such a report.

An embassy spokesperson said they would issue a statement on Friday.

The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations codified a custom that had been in place for centuries when it established the “rule of inviolability”.

This states that local police and security forces are not allowed entry unless they have the express permission of the ambassador – even if the embassy remains the territory of the host country.

The convention is widely respected and is considered a basic prerequisite for diplomatic relations.

Sources told ZimLive that Crnkovic, who was staying at the Meikles Hotel after arriving in Zimbabwe two weeks ago following his expulsion from the country in 2015, has been warned of his impending arrest for reasons that are still unclear.

Crnkovic snuck out and was chased at high speed on his way to the European Union Embassy at Mt Pleasant Business Park.

“They were trying to force him off the road,” the source said. “When he arrived at the embassy, ​​two police officers arrived on EU soil and attempted to forcibly deport him by trying to jump into his car and drive away with him. He locked his doors.

The embassy reportedly offered to keep Crnkovic for a limited period. He intended to go to the French embassy – but to avoid arrest he would have to jump into a diplomatic car, which was being negotiated.

Crnkovic, who is not a diplomat, was born in Zimbabwe to Croatian parents. He recently won a court battle confirming his citizenship, allowing him to return home in mid-July.

The businessman, through his company, Fopuld Investments, owns 49% of Candrina Investments (Pvt) Ltd, the company that owns Glen Forest.

Over the past year a row has erupted between Crnkovic and the other shareholders trying to buy him out by offering him shares in an extension of Glen Forest known as Chikomo Chemhute where more than 40,000 people are already buried .

Crnkovic, who refuses to sell his shares in Candrina, argues that Chikomo Chemhute is an illegitimate business that has exposed the company to litigation from the families of those buried there. He says the cemetery does not have regulatory approval from the Environmental Management Agency and that the land should be reserved for residential housing and agricultural use.

Some of the shareholders of associated companies – Evolution Group Ltd, Chikomo Chemhute and Matidoda Farms Pvt Ltd – are suspected to be behind Thursday’s attempts to have him arrested.

Crnkovic was deported from Zimbabwe on December 21, 2015 and declared a prohibited immigrant after writing to several embassies insisting that the graves at Matidoda Farms, the cemetery known as Chikomo Chemhute, are there illegally.

“The farm (does not comply with) Section 35 of the Graveyards Act of Zimbabwe,” Crnkovic wrote. “Furthermore, it is within the Mazowe Dam catchment without Environment Management Agency (EMA) approval to establish a cemetery in that area.”

Businessmen appealed to embassies, he said, because his partners had political connections and he did not believe he could get justice in Zimbabwean courts.

Crnkovic only returned to Zimbabwe after the Supreme Court upheld his dual nationality.

Fungai Mparadzi, the chairman of Cadrina Investments, previously told reporters that the Glen Forest Memorial Park has all the required documents from the relevant authorities, including permits from the Goromonzi Rural District Council.

“Glen Forest is an independent company that operates a cemetery and crematorium. Glen Forest is legally operating and has the approval of the Goromonzi Rural District Council and all relevant government departments. Glen Forest has EMA approval to operate a cemetery and crematorium. He buries everyone in lined graves, and that was a condition given by the EMA in their approval,” he argued.