The High Court has dismissed an application by the State to transfer the corruption-related Zambia maize import case against former Cabinet minister George Chaponda and businessperson Rashid Tayub from Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate’s (CRM) court.
However, while sustaining that the matter continue being heard by the magistrate’s court, High Court Judge Dingiswayo Madise yesterday ordered that the case be transferred from Blantyre CRM to Zomba CRM in the Eastern Region.
The matter, in which former minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Chaponda and director of Transglobe Produce Export Limited, Tayub, are accused of corruption, was committed to the High Court on November 22 last year.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale issued the certificate of committal after the State, through the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), applied to transfer the matter to the High Court.
The State argued that they wanted the Blantyre CRM Simeon Mdeza to recuse himself from hearing the case after he was overheard purportedly stating that Transglobe was “a very honest taxpayer”; hence, they felt he could not ably hear the matter.
But the case was referred back to the Blantyre CRM few days later after the defence team applied for a judicial review of the DPP’s decision to commit the matter to the High Court.
The defence argued that State lawyers abused the court processes when the certificate of committal was prepared and issued while trial was already underway instead of being done at the onset of the matter.
When the court heard the application for judicial review yesterday, Madise agreed with the defence team’s assertions that the issuance of the committal certificate by the DPP was “unreasonable and unjustified”.
The judge also ruled that by issuing the committal certificate, the DPP violated Section 289 of the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Code.
Said Madise: “I am of the considered view that the decision to issue the certificate was unreasonable and without merit. This was supposed to be done at the charging stage, it cannot come any time midway trial.”
He also observed that transferring the matter to the High Court would deny the accused two levels of appeal in the event of conviction as the High Court can only hear the matter once.
Since the State had also applied for the recusal of Blantyre CRM in the matter which he rebuffed, the judge directed that the matter be transferred to Zomba CRM and should start within 21 days.
Reacting to the ruling, defence lawyer Tamando Chokhotho said they were happy with the determination as that was their prayer.
He said: “That was the very first thing we made when the committal certificate was issued that it was unreasonable and an abuse of the court process so the court has agreed with us and we are quite happy.”
But on his part, senior assistant chief State advocate Steven Kayuni, who represented the Attorney General (AG), said his team would consult and explore some aspects of the ruling to decide whether to proceed the same way or not.
He said: “But then it’s a question of cooperation between the two offices [AG and ACB] involved in the application otherwise we would say partly we are satisfied because initially, if you observed, our initial push has always been moving the matter out of CRM court so the fact that the High Court has ordered that the matter be moved to another CRM in one way or another that is granting what the State had always wanted.”
The ex-minister and Tayub were arrested by ACB last July on suspicion of corruption relating to procurement of the K26 billion Zambia maize deal dubbed as maizegate.
Chaponda is answering three charges of giving false information to ACB, influencing a public officer to misuse his position and possession of foreign currency while Tayub is answering to the charge of persuading a public officer to misuse his position, but they both denied the charges.
So far, three lawyers—Jai Banda, Frank Mbeta and Madalitso Mmeta—have dumped Chaponda citing different reasons. He is currently represented by Chokhotho. n