Eight months after walking free, former Cabinet minister George Chaponda returned to court in Zomba Thursday for retrial in the maizegate case after the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) appealed his acquittal. This corruption-related case involved the 2016 maize purchase from Zambia.
However, the appeal was not heard when the matter came before High Court Judge Redson Kapindu because Chaponda’s lawyer Tamando Chokhotho raised preliminary objections including the legality of indicating notice of intention to appeal after 10 days.
The defence counsel wanted the court to first deal with the preliminary issues before proceeding to substantial matters and after hearing arguments from both parties, the court reserved its ruling to a date to be communicated later.
According to Chokhotho, the State was supposed to file a notice of intention to appeal the case within 10 days after the magistrate court’s decision on the matter as per court procedures.
“They did not do that and only filed their notice, I think 16 days later without seeking permission of the court and we only came to know about it on December 17 when we were served with the notice of appeal.
“They did not file any application for extension of time within which to file that notice of appeal which renders the appeal irregular and, technically speaking, there is no appeal before the court,” said Chokhotho in an interview yesterday.
He said according to Section 349(1) of the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Code, the High Court was not even supposed to entertain the appeal.
Said Chokhotho: “According to what the law says, practically, in the circumstances of this matter, there is no appeal because the application was brought to the court outside the prescribed time.”
But ACB director general Reyneck Matemba said in an interview yesterday, according to the ruling, the magistrate court gave the State 30 days within which to appeal the case and “indeed we appealed within the 30 days.”
“But the defence is arguing that we should have appealed within 10 days so we argued our case and depending on the court’s ruling, that’s when we will know the way forward on the case,” he said.
In an interview with the media after the court adjourned the matter Thursday, lead State counsel Macmillan Chakhala said the magistrate court, under its discretion, had extended time within which the State could appeal but the defence did not notice.
Chaponda was answering to three charges of giving false information to ACB, possession of foreign currency and attempting to obtain an advantage by instructing former Admarc chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe to offer a contract to Transglobe Produce Export Limited but the State appealed against the first two counts.
The magistrate court acquitted him on May 18 2018 after the CRM quashed all evidence presented by the graft-busting body in support of the counts, arguing they lacked elements of corruption.
Chaponda, who is member of Parliament (MP) for Mulanje South West, was arrested on July 19 2017, five months after President Peter Mutharika fired him from Cabinet as minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development due to public pressure, alongside Tayub, and Grace Mijiga Mhango, a businesswoman and also chairperson of the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi. n