Former Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) chief executive officer Collins Magalasi has pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse of office and fraud in the K10.5 million Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members accommodation case.
He appeared before senior resident magistrate Shyreen Chirwa in the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court on Thursday to take plea in the case in which he is accused of using K10.5million Mera funds to pay for the accommodation of DPP officials who went to Lilongwe for a party meeting in 2018.
As Chirwa read out the two charges, Magalasi looked composed from the start of the court sitting to the end.
The senior resident magistrate stated that on the count of abuse of office, between July and August 2018 Magalasi, authorised the release of K10.5 million from Mera towards the payment of accomodation for DPP members.
On the second count, Magalasi is alleged to have requested for funds during the same period for Mera sensitisation meetings but diverted them to the DPP members’ accommodation.
In response, Magalasi said he understood the charges levelled against him and pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Director of Public Prosecution Steve Kayuni, who is prosecuting the case, told the court that the State will parade seven witnesses for the case.
He said: “We seek an adjournment. We will parade seven witnesses to prove the case.”
Chirwa then adjourned the matter to March 9 for commencement of hearing.
In an interview later, Kayuni said the seven witnesses are ready to testify in the case.
He said: “The date has been set and we will start parading witnesses from March 9. We will do the same on March 10 and 11, and by the end of that period, the State will have concluded its part.”
Later in the same court on Thursday, Magalasi and his co-accused business person Dorothy Shonga and two Mera officials Patrick Maulidi and Bright Mbewe failed to take plea due to irregularities in the money laundering and fraud charge sheet against them.
The four who were arrested last year on charges of fraudulent accounting, misprocurement, and two counts of money laundering in connection with an alleged K107 million dubious contract.
When they appeared before Chirwa for plea taking, their lawyers raised objections citing irregularities in the charges.
One of the lawyers, Gift Nankhuni, said the charges did not apply to some of the accused. Some of the terms used in the charge sheet also needed clarification.
Besides the irregularities, Mbewe did not have legal representation and said he needed time to understand the particulars of the charges as he was seeing the charge sheet for the first time.
Kayuni admitted that there were some irregularities but he blamed the defence for raising the objections late saying they had enough time to file a notice on the irregularities as they were served with the charge sheet a long ago.
He committed to iron out the irregularities and serve the defence lawyers with a fresh charge sheet by 1.30pm.
Chirwa has since adjourned the case to February 22 2021 and ordered Mbewe to identify another lawyer by then or he will be considered as not having legal representation.
Fraud attracts a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment while abuse of office attracts three years imprisonment, according to the Penal Code.