High Court Judge Maclean Kamwambe yesterday cautioned prosecution and defence lawyers in the ongoing ‘K1.7 billion’ ($2.5 million) corruption case involving former president Bakili Muluzi against submitting invalid reasons when seeking adjournments.
The nine-year old case has been characterised by adjournments attributed to several factors since trial resumed in earnest last month.
The latest adjournment was on April 19 after prosecutors applied to the court for a split trial to have Muluzi and his co-accused, Lyness Violet Whiskey, who was taken ill while in the dock on April 18, tried separately.
Whiskey, a former personal assistant to Muluzi, is being accused alongside the former president of corruptly acquiring about $11 million (K1.7 billion then) when Muluzi was in power.
However, the State withdrew its application last Friday following communication from the defence that Whiskey was fit to stand trial.
But when trial resumed yesterday, the State immediately sought another adjournment of the case, a thing that apparently did not amuse the presding judge.
State lawyer Chrispin Khunga said they had received a notice for adjournment prepared by the High Court adjourning the case from May 3 2016 to May 13 2016 which also coincided with the ill-health of first prosecution witness, Victor Banda, a former assistant director at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
He said: “So, the witness sought leave to see his doctor and the appointment is today [yesterday] and because of that we did not make any arrangements for him to travel for the case knowing that the matter had been adjourned.”
Khunga also said due to the notice, lead prosecutor and ACB deputy director general Reyneck Matemba, had failed to make it as he was committed with another case at the High Court in Lilongwe.
Khunga, who is chief prosecutions officer for ACB and represented the State on behalf of Matemba, then asked the court to adjourn the matter to May 5 2016.
Private practice lawyer Jai Banda representing Muluzi expressed no objection to the adjournment request, but wondered whether the proposed date was realistic for the witness to avail himself.
But in his ruling, the judge, while appreciating the witness’ ill health, said he did not see valid reasons to have the case adjourned to May 13.
Kamwambe warned that he would not entertain any further excuses for adjournment and asked both sides to “adhere to the date set by the court for continuation of trial”.
Before adjourning the matter to May 5, the judge said: “I am, however, agreeable to the fact that the witness be given opportunity to see his doctor as arranged.”
But in an interview later, Khunga said the State was misled by the notice of adjournment hence the mix-up on the adjournment issue.
In January, Kamwambe indicated his desire to have the case concluded by April 22 2016 with any extensions restricted to the first week of May.
Since trial resumed on April 11 2016 over K100 million has been deducted from the K1.7 billion Muluzi and Whiskey are accused to have fraudulently acquired.