The Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal this week ordered the family of former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika to pay K3.5 billion (US$8 599 509) to a law firm that processed Letters of Administration after his death.
Supreme Court Judge Richard Chinangwa made the order on Tuesday that the law firm, Francis & Franklin and Company, was at liberty to enforce a Commercial Court order that Mutharika’s daughters, Duwa and Tapiwa, pay K3.5 billion in legal fees.
The Supreme Court dismissed an application filed by Duwa and Tapiwa which sought to stop the K3.5 billion payment, being five percent of Mutharika’s deceased estate estimated at K61 billion.
In November last year, the Supreme Court granted Mutharika’s daughters a stay order that effectively stopped payment of the K3.5 billion legal fees, pending inter-partes hearing.
The matter was then set for hearing and private practice lawyer Gift Nankhuni represented Francis Ndenge, a partner at Francis & Franklin and Company.
The Mutharika daughters were being represented by lawyer Frank Mbeta.
The High Court’s Commercial Court Division in Lilongwe, after hearing the matter, ordered the Mutharika family to pay the K3.5 billion legal fees, but the family challenged the ruling and appealed at the Supreme Court.
Chinangwa this week upheld the Commercial Court ruling, declaring that the complainant was at liberty to enforce payment.
In challenging the Commercial Court ruling earlier, Duwa and Tapiwa had argued that they could not be asked to pay the said legal fees because the Letters of Administration the lawyers obtained were irregular, and as such, the lawyers were not entitled to the five percent claim.
The family also denied that the late Mutharika’s estate was valued at K61 billion, adding they did not engage the assessor, Yeremiah Chihana of YMW Property Investment Company Limited.
The Mutharika family, through Mbeta, had also faulted Chihana for making an application for the Letters of Administration before the Zomba District Registry of the High Court when “he knew or ought to have known that under the relevant law, Letters of Administration could only be granted by Principal Registry of the High Court of Malawi”.
The Commercial Court ruling was made in default after the Mutharika family did not attend proceedings and they had argued later that the writ of summons that was supposedly to be served on them was sent to a wrong address.
Mutharika died on April 5 2012 and his wealth sparked controversy and some matters are still in court.
In the will he left, Mutharika left out his widow, Callista, and this led to a legal fight as the former first lady fought Mutharika’s family on the basis that she could not have been left out, being a legally wedded wife.
On the other hand, government through the Estate Duty Commissioner, also took a legal action, claiming a K5 billion estate duty from the Mutharika family, being a percentage also calculated based of Chihana’s K61 billion evaluation.