The Blantyre Magistrates’ Court on Friday found People’s Land Organisation (PLO) self-acclaimed leader Vincent Wandale and three others with a case to answer on a charge of fraud.
Wandale was arrested in Lilongwe on April 21 after about 58 villagers from Thyolo complained to authorities that with the other leaders, he collected money amounting to K3.7 million from them promising to give them land.
The five pleaded not guilty to the charge, arguing the villagers paid the money as membership fee. One of them was acquitted during the trial.
Making his ruling after the State finished parading witnesses in the case, principal resident magistrate Innocent Nebi said from the evidence presented in the court, he found the four with a case of fraud to answer.
Nebi also announced that the next hearing will take place in Thyolo to allow defence witnesses who are based there to testify in the case. He adjourned the case to Monday, July 31 2017.
During cross examination of witnesses, Wandale maintained that the money they collected were membership fee.
He accused the State of registering fake names as complainants and blowing the figure out of proportion.
But the State, through private prosecutor Frank Mbeta, said it was clear that money was paid to the accused as proven by the receipts that were presented.
“From the evidence gathered, it is clear money was paid on the understanding that PLO will allocate land to the people. PLO does not have land and the accused are aware of this. This means complainants were duped, a clearly manifestation that the accused defrauded the complainants,” he said.
In November 2016, Wandale was convicted and given an 18 months suspended sentence on three counts of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour, unauthorised use of land and criminal trespass.
His arrest on September 3 in Lilongwe followed an incident that happened on September 1 at Conforzi Tea Estate where hundreds of villagers invaded the estate and started sharing land for permanent settlement and cultivation. They claimed the land belonged to their fore fathers.
He was released on November 8 after spending 10 months at Chichiri prison on remand.
According to Wandale, membership fee for PLO is K3500 per year. Currently PLO has 4980 members. n