Former Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) director general Aubrey Simbuleta has asked the High Court of Malawi to have his sexual harassment and abuse of office case moved from Lilongwe to the Blantyre registry.
He made the application on Monday through his lawyer David Kanyenda after pleading not guilty to seven counts the State has charged him. He faces two counts of indecent assault, two of sexual harassment and three pertaining to abuse of office.
Making the application, Kanyenda said the interest of justice requires that the case be tried in Blantyre as it is where his client was arrested. He said most of the charges he is accused of are also said to have taken place in Blantyre.
“Of the seven counts that he is accused of, only two were allegedly committed in Lilongwe. If we are to do mathematics on that, 71 percent of the counts were allegedly committed in Blantyre,” the lawyer said.
Kanyenda argued that there was no point in commencing the case in Lilongwe when there are also courts in Blantyre that could have handled the matter.
“The State acted in sharp contrast to the law and the court should ensure that the State should follow the dictates of the law. There was failure on the part of the State on the venue of the trial,” he said.
Kanyenda also told the court that the accused is no longer employed and that hearing the matter in Lilongwe presented a logistical nightmare as the he has to meet transport and accommodation expenses besides legal representation.
But Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Steve Kayuni objected to the application to move the case to Blantyre.
He said the complaint was made in Lilongwe and a warrant of arrest was issued by the court in Lilongwe.
The DPP said although the arrest was made in Blantyre, there was need to move the suspect to Lilongwe to appear before the court that issued the warrant.
“The trial has to be fair to both the accused and complainants. Behind the State are 10 witnesses and majority of them are based in Lilongwe, including one complainant and moving the witnesses to Blantyre will require resources,” said Kayuni.
He added that the matter is being handled by the DPP, who is based in Lilongwe. He said the most senior officials in the DPP office are based in Lilongwe and to have them go to Blantyre to prosecute the matter will be costly.
Kayuni added that when Sumbuleta was seeking bail, he assured the court that he would make himself available for trial.
High Court Judge Redson Kapindu, who is presiding over the case, wondered whether having the case held virtually would affect the application.
In response, Kanyenda said the defence wanted physical proceedings while Kayuni said the State was comfortable with the proposed virtual arrangement, saying it is a progressive way of handling cases.
The judge has reserved his ruling on whether to transfer the matter to Blantyre registry to November 12.
“The ruling might go either way so you should come prepared,” said Kapindu.
Sumbuleta was arrested after the Malawi Human Rights Commission carried out investigations, into alleged reports of sexual harassment of female employees.