Mapeto David Whitehead and Sons (DWS) Limited executives have engaged private practice lawyer John-Gift Mwakhwawa as their lead counsel, replacing Jai Banda in a case in which they are beign accused of tax evasion.
The officials have also roped in taxation law expert Pearson Wame to replace Clement Mwala, but maintained Fostino Maele as their other lawyer in the alleged K16.5 billion tax evasion case.
Mwakhwawa, a former Malawi Law Society president, communicated the changes in court on Friday when the court reconvened before chief resident magistrate (South) Jean Kayira in Blantyre.
He said: “I am now the lead counsel in this matter, but because of the lawyer-client privilege, we cannot disclose the reasons [for the change].”
Mwakhwawa then asked for an early adjournment, arguing that they needed more time to go through the files since they were new in the case.
But Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) lawyer Anthony Chungu objected to the request, saying the defence lawyers had enough time to go through the case files because they communicated to MRA about the changes on August 6.
Kayira dismissed Mwakhwawa’s request and directed that the accused persons take plea based on the amended charge sheet.
In the first count of the amended charge sheet where the textile company’s executives are accused of evading payment of custom duty by allegedly importing ready-made and ready-for-consumption fabrics and twine disguised as duty-free raw materials under industrial rebate, the amount was revised from K2 billion to about K4 billion.
During the plea, the Mapeto DWS executives pleaded not guilty to 15 counts levelled against them.
Kayira later adjourned the case to September 20 for the commencement of the substantive hearing.
In an interview after the court proceedings, Chungu said the State will parade 10 witnesses.
On May 23, MRA pounced on Mapeto DWS Limited and arrested five senior officials for multiple cases of alleged tax evasion which then was estimated at K10.8 billion, but was later revised upwards to about K16.5 billion after further investigations. The suspects also include two MRA customs officers.