Thirteen people accused of stealing and sharing among themselves K201 million ($358,929) from the government in 2011 yesterday pleaded not guilty to the charges levelled against them.
The charges range from theft, money laundering, abuse of office and conspiracy to committing a felony.
There are 14 accused persons who the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) wants to prove were involved in the theft and money laundering of K201 million ($358,929) from the then Ministry of Elderly and Disability Affairs through the Accountant General’s office.
The 14 people are believed to be the genesis of Cashgate, the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill through abuse of government’s central payment system, Integrated Financial Management and Information System (Ifmis).
However, one of the accused persons, Emmanuel Yesaya, did not take plea on the three counts of theft, money laundering and conspiracy to commit a felony as his lawyer, Innocent Kubwalo, introduced a preliminary objection.
The lawyer argued that his client was discharged because the prosecution failed to commence trial on time.
Presiding judge Charles Mkandawire has since set December 11 2015 as the date when prosecution should start proving its case against the suspects.
For the 13 accused persons who were taking plea yesterday, the judge had to read out 38 counts
Said the judge: “This has been one of the longest charge sheets I have read in my life.”
According to the charge sheet compiled by ACB, the alleged looting of public funds took place between November 1 2010 and June 30 2011 and centred around Ministry of Elderly and Disability Affairs through the Accountant General’s office and Cornelius Kaphantengo who was director of Nova Technology and General Dealers.
But on Wednesday, Kaphantengo and his wife, Yvonne, who was a partner in the business, pleaded not guilty to three counts each of conspiracy to commit a felony, theft and money laundering.
Other co-accused persons who denied the charges are Chikondi Chimutu whose charge of theft involves K18.3 million of the K201 million, Deusdedit Tenthani who allegedly got a share of K16.2 million ($28,929), Tendai Nayeja whose alleged share was K27.1 million ($48,393), Audney Kamitengeni who is charged with theft of K9.9 million ($17,679), Conrad Nambala whose theft charge is K38.4 million, Justina Nyirenda charged with abuse of public office as she was a an accounts assistant in the Accountant General’s office, Squire Chakwana charged with theft of K10.7 million.
Others who pleaded not guilty are Jimmy Mbuliro whose theft charge is K3 million, Wides Machika Mbuliro K.5 million, Tapiwa Ng’oma K9.1 million ($16,250) and Khumbo Banda K2.7 million ($4,107).
The court said it will on November 25 decide whether Yesaya, who is charged with money laundering K27.4 million, should be charged or if indeed he was acquitted.
During yesterday’s proceedings, ACB deputy director general Reyneck Matemba told the court that there was no proof that the prosecution was aware of the order to discharge Yesaya.
He said the prosecution would be ready with witnesses when trial resumes on December 11.
In 2013, the shooting of former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo led to revelations of the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill.
Former president Joyce Banda ordered an audit which British forensic auditor, Baker Tilly, undertook between April and September 2013 and established that about K24 billion was siphoned from public coffers through dubious payments, inflated invoices and goods or services never rendered.
In May this year, a financial analysis report by audit and business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also established that about K577 billion ($1,030,357,143) in public funds could not be reconciliated between 2009 and December 31 2014.