Latest: Family of model accusing Mugabe wife of assault 'were offered money to drop claim'

Update 7.09pm: Lawyers for the young model who claims Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe assaulted her in a Johannesburg hotel have said that her family has been approached with an offer of money to drop the allegation.

The lawyers threatened to go to court if South Africa's government grants that immunity, saying it cannot be used to "escape prosecution from grave crimes".

The lawyers also said the family of Gabriella Engels had been approached with an offer of "financial compensation" by a third party.

"They made an offer and said: 'Let us talk, this will go away' ... there was no amount mentioned," said Gerrie Nel, a prominent South African lawyer who has offered his assistance to the 20-year-old model.

The scandal has become a diplomatic mess for South Africa's government and Zimbabwe's 93-year-old president Robert Mugabe, who arrived in South Africa's capital late on Wednesday apparently to deal with the crisis.

Gabriella Engels

Earlier:

A "red alert" has been issued to prevent Zimbabwe first lady Grace Mugabe from leaving South Africa before she settles the accusation that she assaulted a young model, the South African police minister said.

Fikile Mbalula said that all borders have been notified not to permit Mrs Mugabe leaving the country until the matter is resolved, the African News Agency said.

South African authorities are debating whether to grant Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity, which Zimbabwe's government has requested.

It comes after Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe arrived in South Africa, apparently to help his 52-year-old wife with the ongoing scandal.

Mr Mugabe flew into Waterkloof air force base in Pretoria with his entourage late last night, arriving early for a regional summit of southern African nations.

The model who has accused Mrs Mugabe of assault has been offered legal assistance by a prominent lawyer who secured the murder conviction of Oscar Pistorius.

Gerrie Nel, a former state prosecutor who now works as a private prosecutor for AfriForum, an organisation that primarily represents the rights of South Africa's white Afrikaner minority, said he will offer help to 20-year-old Gabriella Engels.

South African police told local media they are awaiting instructions from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation on how to proceed with the case.

A spokesman from that department declined to comment on the status of Mrs Mugabe's immunity bid today, but said yesterday the matter was under consideration.

It is unclear whether Mrs Mugabe entered the country in a personal or an official capacity, which could impact her immunity appeal, but Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper reported last weekend that she was in South Africa seeking medical care.

The debate over whether Mrs Mugabe should be granted immunity quickly took on a political dimension in South Africa, with the opposition Democratic Alliance calling on President Jacob Zuma's cabinet to ensure Mrs Mugabe is brought to justice.

"Ms Mugabe should have applied for diplomatic immunity before she came to our country, not after she finds herself facing criminal charges," the DA's Zakhele Mbhele said in a statement.

The police minister "needs to do his job and ensure she is arrested and has her day in court to answer the serious charges against her".


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