Proceedings in the K16.5 billion alleged tax evasion case against Mapeto David Whitehead and Sons (DWS) executives ground to a halt on Monday after the High Court ordered the presiding magistrate to stop hearing the case pending a review.
Full trial had just started with the State parading its first witness when the defence, led by lead counsel John-Gift Mwakhwawa, drew the attention of chief resident magistrate Jean Kayira to an injunction granted by High Court of Malawi Judge Vikochi Chima.
Interjected Mwakhwawa: “Your worship, with us is an order from the High Court stopping the proceedings of the matter before us.”
Kayira went through the High Court order and immediately adjourned proceedings to a later date.
In its order, t h e High Court said the proceedings would resume after a review of the decision of the magistrate to dismiss the defence’s application for a 30-day adjournment.
The defence wanted a 30-day break to allow the new lawyers leading the team time to study the State’s disclosures.
Two weeks ago , Mwakhwawa replaced Jai Banda as a lead counsel for the defence; hence, asked for more time to go through all the documents which the State served them.
In another twist to the proceedings after Kayira’s dismissal of the application, Mwakhwawa said he wanted to discharge himself from representing the defence. However, after consultations, he said his clients insisted that he should continue representing them.
Earlier, another defence lawyer Fostino Mayere told the court that they made the application for adjournment not to delay the case, but to ensure that the accused persons had the right to fair trial and challenge the evidence.
He told the court that the documents, which the State served on the defence, were in excess of 2 000 pages; hence, requiring more time.
Mayere said: “My clients have already consulted tax experts to understand the disclosures, but the process is yet to be completed and there was a change of legal representation. So it’s our prayer, we need time at least a minimum of 30 days adjournment.”
Before the adjournment following the court injunction, first prosecution witness Deborah Hauya, an employee of Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), was giving her testimony.
Meanwhile, MRA has roped into its legal team veteran lawyer Modecai Msisha.
On May 23, MRA pounced on Mapeto DWS Limited and arrested five senior executives for multiple cases of alleged tax evasion which then was estimated at K10.8 billion before it was revised to about K16.4 billion.