Defence lawyers in the Thomson Mpinganjira bribery case yesterday asked Judge Dorothy DeGabrielle to recuse herself for numerous “improprieties”.
Mpinganjira’s lead lawyer Patrice Nkhono told the court that the judge made various offers to his client for a favourable outcome of the case, which were reported to both the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and police.
He further told the court that despite the issues being reported to the two agencies, the defence has not received any feedback.
Nkhono said they submitted to the court a text message and phone calls from the judge to Mpinganjira which were transcribed; hence, asking her to recuse herself from the case.
However, while acknowledging that the ACB received the complaints, Solicitor General Reyneck Matemba, who is the lead prosecutor, said ACB dismissed the complaints as they were found to be baseless.
He wondered why Mpinganjira has made the application to the court now when the matter happened in February and he was already found with a case to answer.
Said Matemba: “The defence is just trying to play delay tactics.”
While the two sides continued to tussle, the defence further queried the appointment of Matemba as lead prosecutor for the case, describing it as an anomaly.
Nkhono argued that it was unusual that Matemba was appointed prosecutor for the case, stressing that the ACB has powers to prosecute the case according to the Corrupt Practices Act and therefore, Matemba should not be involved as he is now Solicitor General.
Matemba, former director general of the ACB, was appointed Solicitor General in December 2020, but Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Steve Kayuni appointed him prosecutor for the case last week for continuity as he had started prosecuting it.
But Nkhono yesterday argued that in such a scenario, the ACB deputy director general has the power to handle the matter, adding that the DPP’s appointing Matemba as lead prosecutor signifies Executive interference.
Matemba, however,wondered where the Executive interference is emerging from, arguing that the law gives the DPP powers to appoint a public prosecutor for any case when the need arises.
He said in the foregoing, there is nothing unusual about the case and that he has no personal interest but rather a desire to see justice prevail.
Matemba also questioned why lawyer Tamando Chokhotho joined the case without informing the prosecution in advance, prior to yesterday’s hearing.
After hearing both sides, DeGabrielle adjourned the hearing to 10am today, when she is also expected to give her ruling on the application for recusal.
In an interview after the hearing, ACB chief legal and prosecutions officer Victor Chiwala said they were informed on Friday about the application that the defence made in court today.
He said: “That application is baseless because we thought they would bring evidence but they haven’t. The complaint they lodged [to the ACB] was frivolous as it was full of allegations without substance so we dismissed.”
In a separate interview, Nkhono said despite the complaints being dismissed, they take it as a serious one.
“I wouldn’t want to get into the finer details but let me say that in our view as the defence we take it very serious,” he said.
Nkhono also said it was extremely unfortunate that the State is of the view that they are bringing up issues at this point to delay the case.
Mpinganjira was found with a case to answer on April 15 this year.
He was arrested in January 2020 and is accused of attempting to bribe five judges of the High Court of Malawi sitting as a Constitutional Court, who presided over the presidential election nullification case, to rule in favour of former president Peter Mutharika.