The High Court in Blantyre yesterday acquitted People’s Land Organisation (PLO) leader Vincent Wandale on two counts of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour and criminal trespass.
The ruling follows an appeal Wandale made against his conviction and 18 months suspended sentence in November 2016 on three counts of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour, unauthorised use of land and criminal trespass.
Through his lawyer, Michael Goba Chipeta, Wandale appealed against his conviction and sentencing, arguing that there were grave errors that the court made which occasioned actual discourage of justice.
He said: “The lower court erred in sentencing Wandale; the convictions on which the sentences are based being erroneous, the said sentences are wrong in principle. We pray that the convictions be quashed and sentences be set aside; and Wandale be acquitted.”
In his ruling, High Court Judge Sylvester Kalembera quashed the convictions in counts one and three and set aside the sentences.
He said: “The lower court indeed erred in convicting the appellant on the offence of conspiracy to commit an offence when in totality of the evidence before the court, it did not establish or prove the offence. I consequently quash the appellant’s conviction under count one and set aside the sentence therein.
“And on the third ground of appeal, indeed the lower court could not have convicted the appellant having convicted him already on the main principle charge.”
But Kalembera upheld and confirmed the sentence having considered that it was in evidence that Wandale issued a notice that they were going to occupy the land in question on September 1 2016 and on the said date, the land was indeed invaded.
The judge said even though Wandale claims that he only watched the invasion from a distance, under Section 21 of the Penal Code he was party to the commission of the offence; hence, he dismissed ground two of his appeal and upheld his conviction.
Wandale’s arrest on September 3 2016 in Lilongwe followed an incident that happened on September 1 at Conforzi Tea Estate where hundreds of villagers invaded the estate and started sharing land for permanent settlement and cultivation. They claimed the land belonged to their forefathers.
He was released on November 8 after spending 10 weeks at Chichiri Prison on remand.
In a related development, the PLO leader is on remand at Chichiri Prison this time around for allegedly obtaining money by false pretence. Hearing on the case is set to begin on Wednesday.
Wandale, through PLO, is said to have been collecting money from villagers in Mulanje and Thyolo, promising to share them land.
But in an interview after the arrest on April 21 2017, Wandale said the money his organisation has been collecting from people is membership fee.
He accused Senior Chief Ngolongoliwa of mobilising the villagers to falsely accuse him with the aim of subjecting him to torture.
However, Ngolongoliwa denied the allegation, adding that he did not have a hand in Wandale’s arrest. n