The High Court in Blantyre yesterday found business mogul Thomson Mpinganjira with a case to answer in the infamous judges’ bribery case in relation to last year’s fresh presidential election.
In her ruling, judge Dorothy DeGabrielle said evidence the prosecution presented before the court in form of testimonies by witnesses, among others, proved elements of attempts to bribe the High Court judges who sat as a Constitutional Court.
She, however, said she could not go into detail on the evidence, but stated that the opinion of the court is that evidence by the prosecution proved some of the essential elements in relation to charges Mpinganjira is answering.
Dressed in a three-piece blue suit with a matching blue necktie, blue shirt and blue face mask and a pair of black glasses, the accused, who is still on bail, remained attentive as the judge delivered her ruling.
Before the judge walked in, Mpinganjira, who was escorted to the court by his relatives, seemed composed while leaning against the edges of the dock.
While indicating that she would not revoke Mpinganji r a ’ s bai l , DeGabrielle criticised his lawyers, who in their submissions asked the court to be partial since the case attracted public interest as it involved judges testifying.
Delivering the 45-minute ruling, DeGabrielle said the court has never treated the case in a special way, especially considering the personalities involved. She said the case is being treated as any other case that goes before the court.
She said Mpinganjira from the start was legally represented, adding that it would have been unfair on his part if it was to the contrary.
After DeGabrielle finished reading the ruling, Mpinganjira’s lead lawyer Patrice Nkhono asked the court to give the defence more time to map the way forward.
On its part , the prosecution team led by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) chief legal and prosecutions officer Victor Chiwala, did not object to the request.
The lead prosecutor, however, asked the court that if the defence decides . to parade witnesses, they
should ensure that they serve the prosecution any witness statements and documentation they intend to use in courtAfter both sides agreed, DeGabrielle adjourned the matter to May 11 2021 when the defence is expected to state whether they will call witnesses or not.
In an interview later, Chiwala, who told the court that he will be taking over as lead prosecutor after former ACB director Reyneck Matemba was appointed Solicitor General in January this year, said he was satisfied with the ruling.
He said: “This is what we wanted. What remains is for the defence to address the court on whether to give evidence or not at the next sitting.”
In a separate interview, while accepting the ruling Nkhono said as defence, they were yet to decide on the way forward.
He said: “We accept the ruling. Obviously, when the prosecution closes its case, the court has to make a decision. But the court has made it very clear at this point that it is not looking at the evidence in great detail.”
Reacting to the ruling, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College law lecturer Bernadette Malunga said while the burden to prove the case rests on the State, it will now be up to Mpinganjira to determine the next move.
In a written response, she said the ruling essentially means the State has managed to show the court that there is high probability that the accused committed the offence.
She said: “It is now up to the accused person to cast doubt to the evidence submitted to court by the prosecution. This will require the accused person to put in his defence.
“He might call witnesses and also testify on his own behalf. The accused might also opt to remain silent and just call witnesses or he might choose to remain silent and also not call witnesses.”
Some notable faces both inside and outside the court included Democratic Progressive Party regional governor (South) Charles Mchacha and Mulli Brothers Holdings Limited chairperson Leston Mulli.
Mpinganjira, who was arrested in January last year, is accused of attempting to bribe five Constitutional Court judges who presided over the historic presidential election nullification case to rule in favour of former president Peter Mutharika