Technical hitches have derailed direction of the Maizegate case involving former Cabinet minister George Chaponda in which the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is challenging his acquittal.
The graft-busting body and Chaponda’s lawyer Tamando Chokhotho are at odds over the precise period the former minister was supposed to file a notice of intention to appeal the case before the High Court.
Over 15 months have elapsed since the chief resident magistrate (CRM) in Zomba set free Chaponda and his co-accused Rashid Tayub, one of the directors at Transglobe Produce Export Limited, after quashing in totality evidence which ACB presented against them.
ACB appealed Chaponda’s acquittal in June 2018 before the High Court in Zomba but hearing of the matter failed to commence after Chokhotho questioned the legality of the bureau’s notice of intention to appeal which, he claimed, was made after expiry of a 10-day mandatory period.
In the case, which relates to the 2016 maize purchase from Zambia, Chaponda was answering to three charges of giving false information to ACB, possession of foreign currency and attempting to obtain an advantage by instructing a public officer to offer a contract to Transglobe Produce Export Limited.
ACB director general Reyneck Matemba said, in an interview last Tuesday, that his office was waiting for the court’s determination on the preliminary objections raised by Chaponda’s lawyer.
“However, let me mention that on our part as ACB, we understand and fully appreciate the reasons or justification behind the delay
[for the court to make a determination]
“I say this because I am aware that the Hon. Chaponda’s case is before Justice Redson Kapindu, who is also handling the ongoing presidential elections case in Lilongwe,” said Matemba on Tuesday.
On his part, Chokhotho also said there has been no communication from the court and he was waiting to hear whether the bureau acted within the law and would sustain its application for an appeal or throw it out.
But Judiciary spokesperson Agnes Patemba said in an interview on Thursday, with the ongoing presidential elections case in Lilongwe, the presiding judge had suspended all other matters to concentrate on the electoral matter.
Chokhotho is arguing that as per court procedures, ACB was supposed to file a notice of intention to appeal the case within 10 days after the CRM ruling but they filed after 16 days or so.
Based on Section 349(1) of the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Code, the lawyer considers that ACB failed to appeal the ruling before the High court, and as such, the court was not even supposed to “entertain the appeal”.
“They did not file any application for extension of time within which to file a notice of appeal and that renders their appeal irregular.
“So, according to what that law says, practically, in the circumstances of the matter, there was no appeal because the application was brought to the court outside the prescribed time,” said Chokhotho.
But according to ACB, the CRM, under its discretion, extended the period to 30-days within which to appeal and that was why his office filed after 10 days.
In its ruling on May 18 last year, the CRM observed that ACB arguments against Chaponda, lacked elements of corruption hence the decision to acquit the former Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development minister and DPP vice-president for the South.
The Mulanje South West legislator was arrested on July 19 2017, (almost six months after President Peter Mutharika fired him from Cabinet due to public pressure), alongside Tayub and Grace Mijiga-Mhango, a businesswoman and chairperson of the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi.