Four of the accused in the alleged treason case on Monday pleaded with the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate’s Court to throw out the perjury proceedings against them amid accusations of political elements in the case.
They also allege abuse and manipulation of the court process by Malawi’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Chief resident magistrate Ruth Chinangwa, after hearing the accused’s argument, on Monday adjourned the case to May 15 when she is expected to rule on whether her court would proceed with hearing the perjury case.
Responding to earlier arguments by the State over the merits of having the perjury case in the magistrate’s court, one of the lawyers for the accused, Titus Mvalo, asked the court to throw out the case as a way of protecting the suspects as it was clear that the criminal charges against them were meant to “eliminate political enemies.”
He said: “Looking at the background of the case, the setup would well be within a political set up… When deciding on the issue at hand, this political element has to be borne in mind.”
The four accused answering the perjury charges are newly elected Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Peter Mutharika, former chief secretary to the government Bright Msaka, former Cabinet ministers Goodall Gondwe and Jean Kalilani, who is also DPP secretary general.
Under the perjury charge, the four are being accused of giving false information to a Commission of Inquiry appointed by President Joyce Banda to investigate circumstances surrounding the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika in April last year and the events surrounding the power transition.
The perjury charge was initially among the seven charges committed to the High Court by the same Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate’s Court only to be brought back later to the same court, a development that the suspects’ lawyers objected to and forced the proceedings to stop on the very first day.
However, in another sitting, the State justified its move, arguing that the DPP had not breached any procedures and complied with all legal requirements within his powers.
Kalekeni Kaphale, another defence lawyer, accused the DPP of manipulating and abusing the court process by unprocedurally discontinuing the perjury charge in the High Court and bringing it back to the magistrate’s court.
Kaphale argued that the prosecutors did not comply with the constitutional provision regarding reporting the reasons for the discontinuance of the perjury case to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament within 10 days.
Besides the four, the other accused in the treason case include former Cabinet minister Henry Mussa, former deputy ministers Nicholas Dausi and Kondwani Nankhumwa, former deputy chief secretary to the government Necton Mhura, former presidential guard commander Duncan Mwapasa and the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s former legal adviser Allan Ntata.
Whereas Mwapasa is yet to be charged, Ntata was charged in absentia as he is reported to be abroad.
The 12 are facing different charges in relation to the roles they played during the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in April last year and in handling the transition. They are accused of trying to circumvent constitutional order to block Banda, Mutharika’s estranged State vice-president then, from ascending to the presidency after the death.
The arrests followed the release of a report by a Commission of Inquiry appointed by President Banda to investigate the death of the President and also issues surrounding the succession.