Malawi Government says only investigations on perjury charges are complete for the 10 people facing treason; hence, the decision to begin with perjury in the trial.
Two weeks ago, the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions announced that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) interim president Peter Mutharika, former Cabinet ministers Goodall Gondwe, Jean Kalirani and interdicted Chief Secretary to Government Bright Msaka would appear in court to take plea on the charge of perjury.
The four also face treason charges alongside seven others.
Spokesperson for the Malawi’s Ministry of Justice, Apoche Itimu, said in an e-mail response on Thursday that the filing of the perjury charges marked the beginning of the trial of people suspected to have committed various offences following the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika.
‘Govt too desperate’
Asked why the State preferred to start with a lesser offence instead of the more serious case of treason, Itimu said investigations so far have revealed that several offences were committed by several individuals jointly and individually.
“The perjury charge is one of the offences that were committed individually; as such, we are able to proceed with those individuals as soon as the investigations on that charge/individual are completed.
“For other offences such as treason, some of the accused persons will be charged jointly; as such, we will only proceed as soon as investigations on those charges/individuals are completed,” she said.
But legal expert Justin Dzonzi has described as “too desperate” government’s decision to begin with the perjury charge.
“My opinion is that the State is too desperate considering that there are more serious matters,” said Dzonzi.
He observed that the prosecution may be far behind with investigations into the other more serious charges.
Perjury is punishable by up to seven years, according to Section 104 of the Penal Code. On the other hand, death is the ultimate punishment for treason in terms of Section 38 of the Penal Code.
Chancellor College law lecturer Dr Garton Kamchedzera said the State might simply be strategising as it would not want to go for the bigger cases first unless it is ready to prosecute with speed.
“My opinion is that the State would not want to proceed against many defendants on multiple charges. It would want at least some charges closed.
“In that group, there are people whose cases could be concluded quickly and easily instead of bundling everybody together, unnecessarily making the case unwieldy and overly susceptible to political manipulation,” said Kamchedzera.