The Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal yesterday reserved its ruling in a K4 billion wildlife crime case in which the State is challenging an ‘erroneous’ High Court judgement.
The appeal followed a decision by High Court judge Dingiswayo Madise to convict and charge Patrick and Chancy Kaunda to pay a fine of K1.5 million each or serve five years in default as well as pay K1 million each and in default serve two-year jail terms. The default sentences were to run consecutively.
The two were charged in 2015 for being found in possession of 781 pieces of ivory which were concealed under 350 bags of cement imported in a truck from Tanzania.
For the seized ivory worth K4 billion, the court ordered that ivory to be burnt in the presence of the court and government officials.
The 2.6 tonnes of ivory was burnt in Mzuzu on March 14 2016.
The three-judge panel of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal sitting at the Mzuzu Court started hearing the case on Thursday with appeal judges Edward Twea, Dustain Mwaungulu and Lovemore Chikopa.
Leading a team of State prosecutors, senior assistant chief State advocate Dr Steven Kayuni said the lower court erred in meting out lenient sentences to the offenders.
He said the court should have given both a fine and a hefty custodial sentence in line with the amended National Parks and Wildlife Act Section 110 and the repealed Money Laundering, Proceeds of Serious Crime and Terrorist Financing Act section 35.
In defence, private practice lawyer George Kadzipatike said the lower court was not wrong in principle because “sentencing is a matter of discretion” to the courts.
He said the lower court followed “a long-standing procedure” where the courts fine convicts and in default serve a jail term.
After hearing both sides, the court adjourned the case for judgement to a later date, most probably before the month of July ends.
The illegal trade in wildlife products, including illicit trade in elephant ivory, is recognised as one of the largest transnational and serious organised crimes in the world.
Malawi is recognised as a major transit route for the illegal ivory trade, according to the 2016 Report on the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS).
The report presented at a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016, groups Malawi with Malaysia, Singapore and Togo and this group represents “the greatest proportion of total weight relating to seizures”, suggesting that the bulk of the illicit ivory traffic moving through and from these countries was higher-level organised criminal activity.
Since 2011, there have been over 200 cases of elephant ivory trafficking or trade recorded in Malawi and between April 2016 and May 2017, the Malawian authorities have confiscated over 500 kilogrammes of elephant ivory.
Presently, apart from President Peter Mutharika’s public pronouncement of his commitment to preserve wildlife, government has made efforts in combating the illegal trade by amending the National Parks and Wildlife Act as well as establishing the Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit and the Inter-Agency Committee on Combating Wildlife Crime. n