The Blantyre Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday committed to the High Court the corruption-related case surrounding the Zambia maize purchase involving a former Cabinet minister and Blantyre based businessperson.
The committal came barely minutes after Blantyre chief resident magistrate (CRM) Simeon Mdeza, who had been presiding over the matter, refused to recuse himself from the matter as requested by the State represented by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
The development also came after the State’s earlier attempt on Tuesday to have the matter transferred to the High Court was thwarted due to procedural issues.
On Tuesday, the State filed an application for the CRM to recuse himself from the matter on the basis of alleged remarks he made in his chamber last Thursday.
Lead State counsel Macmillan Chakhala said the magistrate purportedly stated that Transglobe Export Produce Limited was “a very honest taxpayer”; hence, the State felt he could not ably adjudicate over the case.
But in his ruling, Mdeza declined to recuse himself from the matter arguing he did not remember making the alleged statement as cited by the State.
However, he further said he did not believe his alleged conduct had real possibility of biasness only that the State was geared at delaying the matter.
Said the magistrate: “It is disheartening that the State has taken this route… The State is geared to have the matter delayed and I cannot accept that. I do not want to be associated with the delaying tactics the State is employing.”
Immediately after the recusal application was dismissed, Chakhala produced a certificate for summary procedure trial from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), effectively referring the matter to the High Court.
The move did not go down well with the defence team which attempted to dispute, but Mdeza said he could not do anything because the certificate automatically signified removal of the case from him.
In the case, former minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda is the first accused with businesses person Rashid Tayub, director of Transglobe Produce Limited, as the second accused.
In an interview later, a visibly annoyed lead defence counsel Tamando Chokhotho said the move to commit the case to High Court was a ploy by the State to further delay it.
He said they were not ruling out the possibility of seeking review of the certificate because it was supposed to be done at the onset of the matter and not after trial had already started.
Said Chokhotho: “The certificate of committal was prepared on November 20 and today is November 22. On Wednsday they made an application for recusal and we spent a lot time arguing about it when all the while they knew they had already obtained the certificate.
“We are not amused at all this only shows that the State deliberately wants the case to delay. We know the honourable DPP is not aware of this particular scheme by the State to abuse the court’s process.”
But on his part, Chakhala said they were not delaying the matter and they could not sacrifice the case by wanting a speedy trial as such they would do anything for a fair trial.
The State already paraded two witnesses- former Admarc chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe (principal witness) and former Admarc director of operations Feckson Kantonga.