Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) interim president Peter Mutharika, Malawi’s former Economic Planning and Development minister Goodall Gondwe and two others on Wednesday failed to take plea in a perjury case after defence and State lawyers differed on preliminary objections raised by the former.
Mutharika, alongside his first deputy Jean Kalirani, interdicted chief secretary to the government Bright Msaka and Gondwe appeared in court almost a month after being granted bail for their alleged role in the aftermath of former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s death and the power transition that followed in April 2012.
The four appeared before Lilongwe chief resident magistrate Ruth Chinangwa on only one charge of perjury, out of the six they were charged alongside seven others.
A visibly frail and confused Gondwe, who had challenges with walking, was the first to stand in the dock, but his appearance was short-lived as his lawyer, Titus Mvalo, sent communication that he will not be available.
Kalekeni Kaphale and Samuel Tembenu, who are lawyers for the other defendants, asked Chinangwa to immediately stop proceedings of the case as they are an abuse of court process.
They also argued that the proceedings were a breach of their clients’ right to fair trial.
This development seemingly took the State team, led by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Bruno Kalemba, unawares.
Argued Tembenu: “We have preliminary objections to make before the accused persons take a plea. Proceeding with the case at this stage is abuse of court process, as the matter at hand stands in two courts of law, the High Court and the one currently sitting.
“There is a certificate from the office of the DPP to the effect that cases of the accused persons, particularly that of perjury, be tried at the High Court. Now, without any explanation or reasons, we are back at this court. This is a breach of the accused persons’ right to fair trial.”
Kaphale chipped in, wondering where in the world people have been tried in two courts on the same case.
He told the court: “I do not know anywhere here and outside where people stand trial in two courts on same charges. Again, there is no evidence that the DPP notified the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament on the discontinuation of the case before recommencement as stipulated by law.”
Kalemba then asked the court to adjourn to a later date for the State to respond to the issue raised.
The case resumes on April 16.