The High Court of Malawi is set to rule on Tuesday whether former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo and 18 others have a case to answer in their K2.4 billion Cashgate case.
In her address after meeting lawyers representing the State and the defendants in Lilongwe on Wednesday, presiding Judge Esmie Chombo said the court could not proceed to deliver its ruling because two of the 19 suspects—Gerald Magareta Phiri and Andrews Chilalika—were absent due to health reasons.
But it is not clear how the case would proceed come Tuesday if the two suspects are not available.
Mphwiyo is the most high profile face in the K2.4 billion trial that also has former Accountant General David Kandoje, Maxwell Namata, Steven Phiri, George Banda, Michael Mphatso, Samuel Mzanda, Andrews Chilalika, Auzius Kazombo-Mwale, Clemence Madzi, Roosevelt Ndovi, businessperson Stanford Mpoola, businessperson Limumba Karim, Fatch Chungano, Symphathy Chisale, Cecilia Ng’ambi, Stanley Mtambo, Gerald Magareta Phiri and Ndaona Satema.
However, Limumba is being tried in absentia as he has been at large since a warrant of arrest was issued in 2015.
Responding to journalists’ questions outside the court, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale on Wednesday refused to comment on what the State would do if the suspects are unavailable next week.
She reminded the media that her response to the question may reflect on a position that was announced by the judge.
But while acknowledging that the case has taken long, Kachale said there was legitimate justification, including difficulties in prosecuting white collar cases in general as one.
She said: “Has there been delay in this case? I would say that Malawians should understand white collar crimes. Cases of this nature need expert witnesses and there was a time when we had to adjourn cases because SoftTech, the experts, were not available on the date that was set.
“Some of the delays are very necessary in the interest of justice. As a prosecutors, if we have a matter and you can’t say let’s just deal with the case to meet a deadline. If witnesses are not available, you need to wait for them.”
On Limumba, the country’s top prosecutor said the State is still processing his extradition from South Africa while simultaneously prosecuting his case in absentia.
But when asked why Limumba does not appear on Interpol watch list which The Nation had checked prior to the hearing on Wednesday, Kachale referred the matter to Malawi Police Service as the office responsible for making the request.
Mphwiyo and others took plea in the case on November 1 2016, but the case has moved at a snail’s pace.
The snail’s pace in the prosecution of the case against Mphwiyo—whose near fatal shooting outside the gate of his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe on September 13 2013 opened a can of worms on the country’s biggest corruption case—and others is a familiar scenario in Cashgate cases.