High Court of Malawi judge Mike Tembo yesterday concluded giving his testimony as the first witness of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in a case where business mogul Thomson Mpinganjira is accused of attempting to bribe Constitutional Court judges.
ACB director general Reyneck Matemba said Justice Healey Potani of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal will be the next witnesse. He said ACB will also parade three of its investigators as witnesses.
Judge Dorothy De Grabielle presided over the through a video link from Lilongwe. The prosecution and defence teams were at the High Court Commercial Division premises in Blantyre.
Earlier, lead defence lawyer Patrice Nkhono had applied for an adjournment in apparent protest to the arrangement of a video conferencing because the judge was not physically present.
But the presiding judge dismissed the application and ordered that the hearing proceed because journalists and witnesses were all in court.
In an interview later, Nkhono said: “My understanding is that the trial was supposed to take place where the judge was and in public. We found the arrangement to be unfortunate and we raised the issue with the judge. Our argument was that the right to public hearing entails publicity or transparency.
“And as a matter of fact, the law in Malawi does not provide for video conference, but the judge overruled our application and obviously we proceeded with the trial.”
On the status of plea bargaining arrangement, Nkhono said the issue is not closed.
He said: “We could not agree on certain elements and here we are into the trial. The plea bargaining is not closed.”
On his part, Matemba said since the last hearing on October 30, the defence had not reverted to the bureau on the issue of plea bargaining.
“We are proceeding with the case. If they still want to approach the State on plea bargaining they are welcome. As I indicated, the defendant can change their plea any time before conviction. We gave them our conditions, they said they wanted to consult their client, but they have not.”
In his cross-examination, running through transcripts of phone conversations between Tembo and Mpinganjira, defence lawyer Fostino Mayele asked Tembo why he did not report Mpinganjira’s alleged bribery attempt to ACB within 48 hours as stipulated by the Corrupt Practices Act.
In response, Tembo said he did not report because he wanted to protect the accused considering the political environment at the time.
He said: “I discussed the issue at length with my colleagues in the case and we agreed that we should finish the trial first. And we eventually reported the matter to ACB.”
Mpinganjira is answering charges under the Corruption Practice Act. The charges include offering an advantage to a public officer, attempting to induce public officers to exercise functions of their offices corruptly and purportedly attempting to influence public officers by offering K100 million to Constitutional Court judges.
Mpinganjira was arrested on January 22 2020 following a formal complaint from Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda to the ACB on November 28 2019 that two of the five judges hearing the presidential election nullification petition case reported bribery attempts.
Besides Tembo and Potani, the five-judge Constitutional Court panel comprised Ivy Kamanga, Dingiswayo Madise and Redson Kapindu.