When Zimbabwe’s vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, went to South Africa to treat an undisclosed illness in June, his wife first tried to dissuade him from going to a hospital; second lady Marry Mubaiwa allegedly suggested he stay in a hotel instead. Then at the hospital, Mubaiwa waited for her husband’s security officers to leave the room before allegedly unhooking his intravenous lines. She then forced him out of bed and tried to lead him out of the hospital before security officials stopped her, a new criminal complaint alleged, according to the Associated Press.

And that was before the marriage fraud and money-laundering allegations.

Mubaiwa, 38, appeared in court Monday in the capital of Harare following her weekend arrest by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission on charges that she tried to kill her husband, commit marriage fraud and launder nearly $1 million to pay for luxury cars, property and other personal expenses, according to the criminal complaint.

The former model, described as the vice president’s estranged wife in the ZACC complaint, denied the allegations against her and waved to onlookers as she entered the magistrate court. She was later denied bail when prosecutors argued she was a flight risk and might interfere with witnesses, the Reuters news service reported.

The unusual charges against Mubaiwa follow a string of arrests of political elites as the country struggles with issues including costly political corruption and hyperinflation in the two years since Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe, was forced out in a coup led by Chiwenga. Mugabe died in September.

In addition to being accused of trying to kill her husband and transferring more than $900,000 out of the country, Mubaiwa allegedly tried to fraudulently obtain an upgraded marriage certificate without Chiwenga’s knowledge or consent while he was sick. The couple have been married for eight years under Zimbabwe’s customary law, a lesser status than the country’s monogamous civil marriage, which offers greater legal advantages to women. The couple were believed to be set for divorce, Reuters reports, citing local independent media in Zimbabwe.

Todd Moss, a former senior state department official stationed in Africa, said Mubaiwa’s charges are unusual and could be the result of a marital dispute where two powerful elites are trying to use the law against one another.

“It obviously fits a pattern,” Moss told The Washington Post, describing the long history of palace intrigue — including mysterious illness, poisonings and car crashes involving senior people in the ruling ZANU-PF political party — to instill fear among warring internal factions. The anti-corruption campaign is little more than a tool for attacking opponents within the party and without, Moss said.

“You can tell that because of the highly selective and obviously political choices being made about who to go after and who not to,” he said.

Even in the post-Mugabe era, Zimbabwe’s government largely is made up of the same small cabal of military and political elites who have been in power since 1980 and have four decades of history together and co-mingled business interests, Moss said.

“The way to think about Zimbabwe is not a normal government but more like a small mafia that’s running a country,” Moss said, adding that President Emmerson "Mnangagwa and Chiwenga are more like ‘The Sopranos’ than Thomas Jefferson.”

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