In a new twist to preliminary objections in the case of the missing K11 million at the Ministry of Youth involving two former Cabinet ministers and a businessperson, the suspects have brought into the spotlight the marital relationship of the presiding judge and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
High Court judge Chifundo Kachale, who is presiding over the case as chief resident magistrate (CRM) having first heard it in that capacity, is married to DPP Mary Kachale whose office is prosecuting the case.
However, the defendants—former minister of Finance Friday Jumbe, former minister of Youth and Sports Phillip Bwanali and businessperson Vincent Mpaluko—feel the relationship could deny them their rights to fair trial.
The three have been charged with various counts ranging from theft by public servant, misuse of office and gross negligence by a public officer to obtaining money by false pretence in relation to the theft of K11 million from the Ministry of Sports in 2004.
It has been seven years since the two former ministers and chairperson of the Sports and Culture Trust Fund, Mpaluko, were found with a case to answer and they are expected to start entering defence on April 23.
But they have objected to Kachale presiding over the case, alleging potential bias due to his relationship with his wife.
In his affidavit in support of the motion on the request to transfer the case to the lower court which he adopted before court, lawyer for the defendants, Manuel Theu, claimed the media quoted the office of the DPP as having said that the case was revived because the office had come across substantial evidence.
Since her appointment as DPP, Kachale has not faced her husband in the same courtroom even though he is also presiding over several high-profile Cashgate cases, including one involving former minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara and businessperson Oswald Lutepo.
Theu also implied political motivation in the resumption of the cases, which has happened soon after the change of government.
The witnesses for the defence include the then and current Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe, and former chief secretary to the government Bright Msaka, who is now Minister of Lands and Housing.
But lawyer for the State, Gabriel Chembezi, said it was a misrepresentation of facts to allege that the case was resurrected when the current DPP was in office.
Kachale is expected to make a ruling on his eligibility and several other preliminary issues on April 15 before trial commences again on April 23.