The Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court yesterday released on bail Cecilia Kumpukwe—a sister and aide to the immediate past president Joyce Banda—and her accomplices Stella Assani and Yesaya Mkwala.
Kumpukwe, Assani and Mkwala were arrested in connection with a purported resignation letter allegedly written by Vice-President Saulos Chilima.
The State has levelled two charges against the trio: Making a false document contrary to Section 353 of the Penal Code and publishing false news likely to cause fear and alarm among members of the Republic of Malawi contrary to Section 60 (1) of the Penal Code.
When the three arrived at the court around 10am, police officers and some People’s Party (PP) officials tussled and exchanged bitter words before the court resumed hearing of the case.
Apparently, the police were annoyed by PP supporters who had swarmed a police vehicle carrying the suspects.
The PP members sang and danced to sarcastic songs while accusing the police of being a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) tool for harassing and silencing the opposition.
Chanted the PP supporters: “But we wish to warn you! We’re watching. You will face the music if the regime changes in 2019.”
Senior resident magistrate Chisomo Msokera deferred plea taking to May 29 2017, paving the way for State prosecutors Mwabi Kaluba and Nepier Chafikana to apply for an extension to the remand warrant of the three.
The State argued that although none of the suspects posed a flight-risk, there was potential that the accused, particularly Kumpukwe, could interfere with “some of the witnesses the State intends to interview in the case”.
But defence lawyers—Bright Theu, Nicely Msowoya and Chimwemwe Sikwese—dismissed the assertions, arguing that the State lacked seriousness on the matter by failing to finalise investigations while the accused persons were in custody.
In granting bail, Msokera faulted the State for failing to provide evidence that the suspects could interfere with witnesses if released on bail.
The magistrate also observed that the State merely advanced general fear when making its application.
He ordered the three to produce K400 000 cash bond each, two sureties bonded at K150 000 non-cash and report to National Police Headquarters every Tuesday, among others.
However, Theu pleaded with the court to vary the reporting condition. He said it would not be plausible for Kumpukwe, who is second accused in the matter, and the first accused Assani to be reporting to the National Police Headquarters at Area 30 in Lilongwe from Blantyre.
The lawyer suggested that the two should instead be reporting to Regional Police Headquarters in Blantyre.
Msokera agreed and granted the prayer.
Kumpukwe and Assani were arrested on different days at their houses in Chigumula and Kameza in Blantyre, respectively.
On the other hand, Mkwala was arrested in Lilongwe.
A police raid at Kumpukwe and Assani’s houses led to confiscation of computers and mobile phones purportedly used in authoring the said document.
Former president Joyce Banda has described the arrest as a political witch-hunt aimed to harass her and her immediate family. n