The High Court in Lilongwe yesterday found former minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara in contempt of court after he threatened to slap Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale during cross-examination.
Kasambara, who is a senior counsel (SC)—the highest honour a lawyer can attain in the country, was forced to apologise and ask for leniency from the court. He told the court that he made the remarks in the heat of the moment.
The former attorney general is representing himself in a case where he is charged with conspiracy to commit murder alongside Pika Manondo and Macdonald Kumwembe in connection with the attempted murder of former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo in September 2013.
In his ruling after asking special public prosecutor Enoch Chibwana to address him on whether he should cite Kasambara for contempt of court, presiding judge Michael Mtambo said Kasambara’s conduct was disrespectful of the court.
Ruled the judge: “I find the accused in contempt of court and I censure him not to carry out this behaviour again.”
This is not the first time that Kasambara has had a verbal altercation with Kachale, according to the prosecution, as previously the judge was asked to create physical space between the two in his chambers.
Kasambara lost his temper after Kachale put it to the court that Manondo would know how long a VW Golf vehicle would take to drive from the new Area 43 Turnoff to Mphwiyo’s house and not from the Kanengo Turnoff into the new residential area.
He described the remarks as demeaning because Kachale had not brought any evidence to that effect.
Said Kasambara: “Stop insinuating that a VW was used to go to Mphwiyo’s house. You are lucky that this is a court. If it wasn’t, I would slap you.”
A visibly shocked Kachale stood up to express her indignation at the remarks, but it was Mtambo who asked the prosecution for guidance on whether the court should cite Kasambara with contempt.
Kachale said: “This is beyond contempt of court. It’s a blatant threat of violence. The court has ruled that he has a case to answer, but he wants to intimidate me in the presence of the court.”
She added that Kasambara has been making threats meant to demean the office of the DPP which he would not have done if she were a man.
As she was addressing the court, Kasambara could be heard scoffing from the dock when she said that if it were a male DPP he would not have made such a threatening statement.
Chibwana, addressing the court after being asked by the judge, said such remarks were not in keeping with an officer of the court and an SC. However, he said the punishment should be a fine not incarceration.
He said: “The third accused is not an ordinary man. He is a Senior Counsel and he must show exemplary behaviour to other lawyers. A censure is not enough because the language he has been using has not been encouraging at all.”
In his apology to the court, Kasambara pleaded with the judge to simply censure him as citing of contempt of court was punishment enough.
He said: “I didn’t intimidate her. What I said was in the heat of the moment. I would plead that you censure me and we move on. I will try to keep myself in check, even if provoked again.”
Kasambara defended his behaviour, arguing that when in the dock he was not an SC, but a third accused person who could be allowed to be emotive.
Mphwiyo’s shooting outside the gate of his Area 43 house on September 13 2013 is widely believed to have exposed Cashgate, the systematic plunder of public resources at Capital Hill by some civil servants and others from the private sector.