An Indian suspected of attempting to externalise a multimillion kwacha booty has requested to plead guilty to some of the charges.
These include illegal possession and attempts to illegally fly out with foreign currency worth about K500 million and gold bars valued at K371 million.
Moinuddian Mohamed Iqbar Sodagar, 37, was arrested at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe on December 30 last year when he was found in possession of $622 820 (about K480 million), 15 860 euros (about K12 million) and £2 015 (about K1.7 million)
A further search of his luggage yielded 15 bars of gold weighing 13.747 kilogrammes which has been valued at K371.9 million.
For the glittering discovery, Sodagar faces the charge of attempting to illegally transfer bullion out of the country contrary to Regulation 8(1) of the Exchange Control Regulations as read with Section 3 of the Exchange Control Act.
His lawyer Ishmael Wadi told the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court yesterday that his client wanted to plead guilty on some of the charges pursuant to Section 252 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code.
“Having carefully scrutinised the statement and evidence for the defence, we are of the considered opinion that in the interest of speedy disposal of the case, it would be desirable for our client to plead guilty to count 2 and 3,” reads the offer for plea bargaining.
The request has since been sent to the Director of Public Prosecution for direction, said Wadi.
However, the lawyer asked for an alternative charge to the one about attempts to ship out gold bullion.
He protests the purity of the gold. Testers found the bars 99 percent pure, but Wadi said the purity ratings could be around 78 percent.
The defence has also protested the first count of money laundering, claiming the State has no evidence.
He offered to share statements and invoices showing sources of money.
“If the process is not done now, the effect would be that evidence would have been introduced which the State was deprived of to investigate. We would request that the defence be allowed to serve the State on sources of funds in 10 days and then investigate for 30 days. Afterwards, we can commence trial after,” Wadi said, seeking an adjournment.
However, the State, led by public prosecutor and Reserve Bank of Malawi legal officer Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda said the defence merely wanted to buy time before prosecution.
“We wouldn’t want to waste the court’s precious time. We have witnesses ready. This case is in the public interest and they are anticipating a speedy completion of the trial,” he said.
Chakaka demanded the invoices to be tendered immediately or by way of cross-examination.
He reckoned there is sufficient material to prove that the foreign currency was illegally obtained.
However, principal resident magistrate Patrick Chirwa disagreed with the State that allowing further testing of the gold bars or plea bargain approval was an attempt to buy time.
“While the court agrees that the case must be expedited because of the public attention, the court is of the view that proceeding with hearing now would be tantamount to denying the accused to the right to a fair trial,” he said.
He adjourned the case to March 30 for plea taking.