The police say they cannot say where former president Joyce Banda’s supposed arrest warrant is.
Yet, it was the same Malawi Police Service (MPS) which, on July 31 this year, issued a statement proclaiming it had a warrant of arrest for Banda, who left the country soon after losing the May 2014 presidential elections and never returned.
But now police are suddenly secretive about the whole affair two months after the sensational announcement.
National police spokesperson James Kadadzera—when Nation on Sunday asked him where the warrant of arrest is—said in an interview on Thursday that police have nothing to add to the press statement they issued in July.
The Judiciary itself, which by law signs off warrants of arrest, is not sure which of their courts issued the warrant for what the police said were Banda’s alleged links to the Cashgate.
In an interview on Thursday, Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula said he did not know which magistrate court issued the warrant.
The failure to disclose which court issued the warrant has left lawyers the former president has hired to represent her to challenge the warrant of arrest guessing.
They are only speculating in their affidavit filed before the High Court in Blantyre that the warrant may have been issued by a magistrate court either in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu or Zomba.
The lawyers, as they struggled to put as respondents magistrate courts sitting in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba and/or Mzuzu and the Inspector General of Police (IG) in challenging the warrant, are simply groping in the dark, believing it is one of these magistrates that issued the warrant.
Equally baffling is the State, which has continued to keep under wraps the name of a magistrate court the police used to obtain Banda’s warrant of arrest.
Lawyers for Banda, who accuse MPS of infringing on Banda’s right to information, complain in their application that they have tried in vain to trace which court issued the warrant.
But Justice Link executive director Justin Dzonzi, a lawyer by profession, said in an interview on Wednesday that although the police’s conduct was suspicious, they are not obliged to disclose which court issued the warrant of arrest.
He said unless Banda’s lawyers are questioning the authenticity of the warrant of arrest, it would be important to know which court issued it for verification.
He, however, added that those issues may still be raised in court when the case [about the application to challenge the warrant] begins.
“But as it is now, police are not legally obliged to disclose which court issued that warrant. But, of course, police’s conduct is strange. Their issuing of a press statement about the former president’s arrest sounded more of a publicity stunt.
“I see Malawians playing into police hands. Police, in my view, have not taken a normal process to execute the former president’s arrest, it was possible to do it without this publicity,” Dzonzi said.
Bright Theu, one of the lawyers leading the Banda team in an application filed to challenge the warrant, says State actions were a violation to Banda’s right to access to information.
The former president, last Friday, filed the application at the High Court in Blantyre for a judicial review, in which she would be asking the court to quash the warrant.
Banda, who has stayed outside Malawi since she lost the presidency in the May 2014 Tripartite Elections, argues that the purported warrant of arrest was issued when there was less drastic mode of securing her presence by simply issuing summons for her attendance.
Talk has been there about authorities being after Banda for her alleged involvement in the plunder of public funds at Capital Hill, infamously dubbed Cashgate. The former president denies the allegations, and she accuses the current administration of persecuting her.
MPS on July 31 this year announced it had secured a warrant of arrest for Banda in February 2017 and that it had alerted Interpol (International Police) to help bring her back home to answer the charges.
Police claimed it alerted Interpol to help them arrest Banda and bring her to Malawi. But as of Friday, Banda’s name could not be traced on Interpol’s list of wanted people.
The court is set to hear arguments from both Banda’s lawyers and government on September 20, before determining whether to nullify the warrant of arrest.
Banda’s lawyers argue that decisions by a magistrate’s court that issued the warrant and the IG are disproportionate and unreasonable.
According to Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code, Section 103, a warrant of arrest may be executed at any place in Malawi and on any day of the week.
Section 104 (1) of the same Code states that when a warrant of arrest is executed, the person arrested shall, unless the court which issued the warrant is within 20 miles of the place of arrest, or is nearer than any other subordinate court, or unless security is taken…be taken before the subordinate court nearest to the place of arrest.
Banda, through her lawyers, is asking the court to declare the decisions disproportionate, unreasonable, and unjustifiable and violation of her rights.
Banda rose to power after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012 when, as State Vice-President, automatically assumed the presidency in line with the Constitution.
Her People’s Party (PP) administration only ruled Malawi for two years and its reign ended after the Democratic Progressive Party candidate, Peter Mutharika, defeated her in the May 2014 elections.