Supporters of the ousted Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday terrorised journalists and police officers as former president Peter Mutharika’s head of security Norman Chisale appeared in court in Lilongwe.
Chisale, sporting a black suit and blue mask, appeared at Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court in handcuffs where he was formally charged with fraud and money laundering.
But as he left the courtroom after chief resident magistrate Violet Chipawo adjourned proceedings to Friday for a ruling on a bail application by his lawyers, men in DPP and United Democratic Front (UDF) masks beat up a Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) cameraperson David Chapita for filming the event.
DPP secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey also threatened to confiscate the phone of The Nation journalist covering the court, inviting the party cadets to enter the court perimeter fence and deal with those filming and taking photographs.
“You will be beaten up today. We will smash that phone,” roared Jeffrey, asking the cadets to even fight the police just like they did.
But Chisale’s lawyer Chancy Gondwe disowned the party supporters’ actions, saying they do not represent the client’s wishes.
He apologised formally to media houses and said the lawyers will also formally apologise in court on Friday.
Said Gondwe: “This is an open society. I don’t think it reflects what the client wishes. We send apologies on behalf of the client and we believe these were actions of a few overzealous people.”
In court, Chisale heard the holding charges from the State.
Reads the particulars of the offences: “Norman PaulosiChisale, during the years 2018 and 2019 in the City of Lilongwe by deceit or other fraudulent means, imported 800 000 bags of cement without paying duty, thereby causing a pecuniary detriment of 5 billion Malawi kwacha to the Government of Malawi.”
Earlier, Chisale’s lawyers and State prosecutor Dickens Mwambazi battled over the issue of bail.
Gondwe told the court that Chisale should be granted immediate bail as he has cooperated with the State in the investigation.
Said the lawyer: “He surrendered himself to police after being called. He cooperated with police during interrogation and during a search at his house. He has surrendered assorted documents deemed useful to the police investigation and commits himself to be available during police investigations and we submit that there is no basis not to grant the accused person bail.”
Gondwe also argued that the State’s plea to continue holding Chisale in custody due to continuing investigations was tantamount to pre-trial punishment.
But Mwambazi asked for more time for investigations, saying bail was optional and that no other suspect in the cement smuggling saga had been charged except Chisale.
He said: “The accused person may be familiar with the identity of witnesses. The accused person has mentioned a number of people who assisted in the transactions and these people are yet to be arrested and some statements are yet to be verified…
“We have brought the accused person to court just 24 hours after he was arrested. If we wanted to punish him, we could have waited longer. We have no reason to punish the suspect.”
The police arrested Chisale on Tuesday for procurement of cement from Zambia and Zimbabwe which entered the country duty free using Mutharika’s presidential privilege.