Business tycoon Thomson Mpinganjira had his bail revoked on Thursday and remanded to Chichiri Prison following his application for plea bargain—an arrangement where prosecution and defence discuss a mutually satisfactory way to dispose a case.
When the court reconvened for hearing on Thursday, Mpinganjira—who is accused of attempting to bribe five High Court of Malawi judges sitting as the Constitutional Court in the May 21 2019 presidential election nullification petition case—through his lead lawyer Patrice Nkhono applied for plea bargaining arrangement with the State “to save time and resources in the case”.
Presiding Judge Dorothy DeGrabrielle accepted Mpinganjira’s application on condition that his bail is revoked and after Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director general Reyneck Matemba told the court that the prosecution was open to any plea bargaining arrangement as it is acceptable under law.
In her ruling, she said: “The court will allow the case to enter into plea bargaining because it is provided in the law, but on the condition that the accused person will be remanded to Chichiri Prison until next week.”
Immediately after the judge pronounced her judgement, Mpinganjira, clad in a gray stripped business suit, was seen shaking his head. Meanwhile, his lawyers were seen making phone calls while he and his well-wishers waited in the courtroom for almost two hours after the court adjourned.
Black’s Law Dictionary (Sixth Edition) defines plea bargaining as “the process whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval”.
It says the process involves the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser offence or to only one or some of the counts of a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than the possible for a graver charge.
In an interview after the adjournment, Nkhono said the exact basis for his client’s instructions to enter plea bargaining will be made known during discussions with the ACB.
He said: “I can’t say yet until we reach an agreement. We intend to start discussion almost right away.”
In a separate interview, Matemba said the bureau was ready for the case as it brought High Court Judge Mike Tembo, a member of the Constitutional Court panel, as its first witness.
On plea bargaining, he said: “We believe and know that we have a very strong case. So [plea bargaining] is a way of mitigating damage.”
Mpinganjira was arrested in January this year and is accused of attempting to bribe the Constitutional Court judges allegedly to rule in favour of former president Peter Mutharika.
On February 3, the five-judge panel nullified the presidential election results, declared that Mutharika was not duly elected and ordered a fresh election as prayed by first petitioner Saulos Chilima (UTM Party) and second petitioner Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi Congress Party).