FORMER top model, Mercy Mushaninga, who is now a convicted fraudster, has been ordered to pay back US$10 000 which she swindled from participants in her competition.
The payment has to be made before December 21.
Mercy faced five fraud counts and was convicted, but the court ruled to keep first female offenders out of prison as much as possible, emphasising the need for leniency.
Harare magistrate, Yeukai Dzuda, imposed a 28-month prison sentence, with six months suspended for five years on the condition that she does not commit an offence involving dishonesty.
Of the remaining months, 12 were suspended on the condition that Mercy restitutes the stolen money to the complainants on or before December 21.
The rest of the sentence was converted to 350 hours community service to be done at VID Belvedere from October 27, and to be completed within 12 weeks.
“This offence has a maximum sentence of 20 years and a minimum of six months. However, courts are urged to be lenient towards first female offenders whenever possible.
“She tendered an apology to her victims during her mitigation which the court took into consideration, but the court also considered that the money was of high value and nothing was recovered.
“There’s a need for restitution because the complainants suffered a financial loss and sending her to prison will make it difficult for them to recover their money,” said magistrate Dzuda.
Complainants in the matter are Daniel Tineyi Muzondo, Temani Isabel, Wendy Kamwana, Shalom Ramunyenyiwo and Eldah Wadzanai Chitate.
The court heard that in August last year, Mercy, a former Miss Princess Zimbabwe model, contacted the five, who are models, and flighted an advert on WhatsApp inviting them to participate in two pageants in Dubai.
The two pageants were the sixth Miss Universal VIP World 2022 and the 16th Little Miss Universe Beauty pageant from October 25-30 last year.
Mercy introduced herself as the organiser of the events and asked the models to pay for their air tickets, visa fees and accommodation through her.
She informed them that they would be traveling and staying together as a team at Al Habtoor Hotel Polo Resort in Dubai.
The models paid different amounts ranging from US$1 650 to US$2 900 each to Mercy.
The court heard that on October 24, the day set as the travel date, the models learnt that they had been duped by Mercy after she failed to give them tickets at Robert Mugabe International Airport.
Investigations also established that Shalom Ramunyenyiwa (31) and Tamar Kunashe Ramunyenyiwa (8) were left stranded at Al Habtoor Hotel Polo Resort in Dubai after Mercy had swindled them of US$2 000.
Shalom approached the Zimbabwe Embassy for assistance and they facilitated their safe return home.