Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale has warned the media against publishing reports on the health status of businessperson and Cashgate suspect Osward Lutepo or risk contempt of court charges.
Kachale made the remarks in the High Court in Lilongwe yesterday at the continuation of a trial of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, which Lutepo is facing alongside former minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara and others.
She said commenting on the matter before the court had deliberated on it was tantamount to contempt of court.
Lutepo has not appeared in court since he was charged due to an illness which a medical report indicated as “anxiety disorder with recurrent panic disorder” and recommended that he be examined further by a psychiatrist as reported by The Nation last Thursday.
However, yesterday, the DPP asked the court to submit a report on the health status of Lutepo in Judge Michael Mtambo’s chambers, away from the public and media.
Kachale cited Section 113 of the Penal Code, which states that a person who comments on a matter that is before court shall be guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for three years.
Said Kachale: “We have not brought a case against The Nation, but had we chosen to we could have done so. Since the newspapers have not demonstrated reasonable reporting, we don’t want to give material information about the health of the accused person in [open] court.”
Lutepo’s lawyer, Osward Mtupila, agreed with the DPP that it was in his client’s best interests that matters about his health should not be made public.
But Mtambo queried how the prosecution and defence would balance issues of privacy against the public’s right to information and public interest in the case.
In response to the judge’s query, Mtupila conceded: “Perhaps minute details regarding his [Lutepo] health ought to be safeguarded and the general assessment by doctors be presented by the DPP to the court.”
Mtambo agreed that Lutepo’s medical report should be submitted away from the public eye and reported later. The case would continue with a plea of not guilty entered in his absence.
When the court reconvened, Mtupila cross-examined former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo on his relationship with Lutepo to which Mphwiyo said he was a friend and “to the best of my knowledge there was no reason he would want to kill me.”
Mphwiyo was shot on the night of September 13 2013 at the gate of his residence in Lilongwe’s affluent Area 43 residential estate.