Attorney General (AG) Charles Mhango says he will not step aside as lead defence lawyer in the K270.4 billion claim case by businessperson Leston Mulli and his enterprises.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) under the banner of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) in a statement issued on Sunday, argued the AG’s involvement in the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) puts his independence as defence lawyer in the case to question.
But in a WhatsApp interview on Tuesday, Mhango, who is currently outside the country, said he will let people judge his defence in the case and make independent assessment of his work.
He said: “Check the nature of my defence on the court file, and make your own independent assessment of such accusations against me. Make an honest analysis of the full defence, not that part which appeared on social media.
“Be analytical and don’t just join and believe the accusations as a journalist. My personal opinion does not really matter. You will do a good job by making an honest analysis of the full defence on the court file. It’s a public document now.”
Mhango further argued that the tendency of some quarters to argue cases in the media was wrong.
“At the opening of current court sitting, the Chief Justice bemoaned the tendency of lawyers trying to argue cases through the media. I don’t involve myself in arguing court cases in the media.
“I remain silent because of the office of Attorney General is a high office and deserves to be treated as such by any holder,” he said.
In the K270.4 billion compensation claim from Mulli and his enterprises, the claimants contend that the order by then minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara saw government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) stop trading with them.
They add that the order also froze payments for previous contracts.
However, the AG filed a statement of defence dated October 11 2018 in which his office asked the court to dismiss the application for lack of basis.
The AG argues that contrary to the claimants’ claims, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on August 22 2014 revoked the said order to the MDAs to stop sidelining them from business transactions.
But in the Sunday statement jointly signed by HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo, vice-chairperson Gift Trapence and regional chairpersons, the CSOs said it was uncertain if the defence is in good faith.
While applauding government for challenging the claim for alleged loss of business following a 2012 order by the State, the CSOs argued that Mhango, who is also DPP legal director—is compromised to handle the case.
Reads the statement in part: “We at the Human Rights Defenders Coalition would like to echo our own calls that Charles Mhango is very partisan and, therefore, not fit for the position of Attorney General.
“He has to resign or be fired. The claim in question is just too huge a sum to gamble with a compromised lead defence lawyer.”
They cite Mhango’s decision in the K2.7 billion Malawi Police Service (MPS) food rations scam where his office volunteered to be third defendant and went on to execute a consent order committing the government to pay part of the sums supplier Pioneer Investments owed privately-owned CDH Investment Bank.
“We all know that part of these funds [about K145 million] from the Pioneer Investment deal ended in a DPP bank account whose sole signatory is the President Peter Mutharika.
“We, therefore, demand that government fires the Attorney General and bring on board a non-partisan person to lead the department, especially on this delicate case. We are looking for someone that Malawians can trust,” adds the statement.
In a separate interview, Trapence said they will challenge the matter in court if Mhango is not replaced.
“The compromised office of the Attorney General, led by Charles Mhango is not up to task, and if government won’t heed our all, we will challenge it in court,” he warned.
The present case comes weeks after Mulli, Sunrise Pharmaceuticals Limited and Chombe Foods Limited on October 2 2018 obtained a court order gagging United Transformation Movement (UTM) members from making statements connecting Mulli and his businesses to a multi-billion kwacha compensation claim against the Attorney General.