Last week, Phugeni, 44, who is also the MDC national spokesperson appeared before Western Commonage regional magistrate, Sibongile Marondedze, who charged him for allegedly contravening section 65 of the Criminal Law, Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23).
In a letter addressed to Khupe, dated November 13, Phugeni requested for leave of absence from his position until his case, which he described as "false and politically influenced", is finalised.
"As you know that I am defending myself in court against malicious, politically motivated charges; I am therefore requesting a leave of absence from November 13, 2020 to the conclusion of the aforementioned court process, I will be back at my desk with my full attention to the information and publicity department as always," Phugeni said.
MDC secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora confirmed the development saying in Phugeni's absence, Hatfield MP, Tapiwa Mashakada will take over.
"We have received that letter written to us and we have taken note. Mashakada was his deputy so naturally he will take over as spokesperson of the party," Mwonzora said.
It is the State's case that during the period extending from June to November 2018, at Emhlangeni and in Magwegwe West, Bulawayo, Phugeni unlawfully had sexual intercourse with the woman who could not be named for ethical reasons, without her consent.
The aggrieved woman later made a report to the police, leading to Phugeni's arrest.
The magistrate remanded him out of custody.
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