Defence lawyers in the corruption-related case involving former minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda yesterday accused the State of employing delaying tactics to stall proceedings.
The defence’s objection as hearing of the case continued at the Blantyre Magistrate’s Court followed an indication by State lawyers on the first day of trial on Tuesday that they only had two witnesses available and that after completion of their testimony they would seek an adjournment.
This apparently displeased the defence team which yesterday filed a notice of preliminary issue, requesting the court not to grant the State, represented by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) lawyers, an adjournment.
“On multiple occasions, the State has delayed this court… disregarding deadlines set for disclosures, coming to court late… and now they want an adjournment. These delays are unjustifiable and inexcusable. They are a waste of the court’s time,” argued Madalo Banda, one of the defence lawyers.
The State said some of its witnesses were members of Parliament (MPs) who were currently meeting in Lilongwe while others were abroad and would only be available in December. The State had initially indicated that it has 22 witnesses to parade.
But Jai Banda, another member of the defence legal team, said the matter had already been adjourned several times and that it was ‘unacceptable’ that barely two days into trial the case should be adjourned again. The court is scheduled to hear the matter for eight successive days.
He said: “The concern from the accused is to have the matter finalised as quickly as possible because they would want to be vindicated. For Mr [Rashid] Tayub, the case has affected business of Transglobe both locally and internationally. As for Dr Chaponda, he is a politician and his political career is at stake.”
But tempers started flaring when another defence lawyer, Lusungu Gondwe, threatened to put State counsel Macmillan Chakhala in the dock and cross-examine him after Chakhala, in his response, accused the defence of trying to “make a mountain out of a mound”.
He said ACB would have concluded the matter had it been that Rashid Tayub, the second accused, did not evade the arrest after a warrant was issued.
Blantyre chief resident magistrate Simeon Mdeza, who is hearing proceedings, curtailed the matter and ordered that it be discussed at a convenient time once testimony of the second witness Feckson Kantonga, former Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) director of operations, is concluded.
Yesterday, the court finalised hearing of testimony from former Admarc chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe on the role he played in the procurement of maize from Zambia.
Later, Kantonga told the court he was part of the delegation that went to Zambia where Admarc management discussed the possible maize supplying deal with Kaloswe and Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF).
Chaponda is answering three charges out of the four which include 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. They both pleaded not guilty. n