High Court Judge Esmie Chombo has said she wants a speedy trial in the K2.4 billion Cashgate case involving former budget director Paul Mphwiyo and 18 others.
The judge has since asked defence lawyers to indicate the number of witnesses they intend to parade in court. She has also outlined the dates for the hearing.
However, the defence lawyers, who refused to be quoted, yesterday told The Nation that they are likely to protest the proposal to avail to the court a list of witnesses they intend to parade before the State has finished parading its own witnesses, saying doing so would be unusual considering that the accused have not been found with a case to answer yet.
In a letter The Nation has seen addressed to the defence team, Chombo has spared no day in May for the case as the timeline shows that the hearing will be held daily except for weekends.
“I request defence to inform the court the estimated number of witnesses for their clients. This is only for proper management of the case and the accused will not be penalised for calling more, or even fewer witnesses than communicated to the court. Please note that this information must be submitted at the February session.” reads the letter in part.
On the dates of the hearing, Chombo says: “I have reviewed the number of days for each session as follows; February, March and April—there will be no change in the number of days, May, the court will sit from 2nd to 31st excluding weekends and public holidays, June, 18th to 29th, July 18th to 29th, July 16th to 27th, August 1st to 31st, September 17th to 28th, October 15th to26th and in November from 5th to 16th excluding weekends.”
The State has so far paraded 13 witnesses out of the expected 30 in the case in which Mphwiyo and 18 others were charged with conspiracy to defraud government, holding property belonging to government, theft, money laundering, fraudulently issuing 24 cheques worth K2.4 billion, abuse of public office and usage of proceeds of crime.
Meanwhile, the court resumes sitting today when defence lawyers are expected to comment on the judge’s letter.
Mphwiyo’s shooting outside the gate of his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe in September 2013 led to revelations of the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill called Cashgate.
Former president Joyce Banda ordered a forensic audit which was undertaken by a British firm, RSM ( formerly Baker Tilly), covering the period between April and September 2013.
The audit established that about K24 billion was siphoned from the public coffers through dubious payments, inflated invoices of goods or services never rendered.
In May 2015, a financial analysis report by audit and business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also established that about K577 billion in public funds could not be reconciled between 2009 and December 31 2014.
However, the K577 billion figure was later revised downwards to K236 billion by another British forensic auditor. n