Blantyre-based High Court judge Michael Mtambo yesterday convicted former minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara and his two co-accused on the charge of conspiracy to murder former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo
Delivering his verdict at the High Court in Lilongwe, the judge also found guilty of attempted murder, Kasambara’s co-accused—businessperson Pika Manondo and former Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldier Macdonald Kumwembe—in relation to Mphwiyo’s shooting on September 13 2013 outside the gate of his Area 43 house in Lilongwe.
In the Penal Code, the offence of attempted murder carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment whereas conspiracy to commit murder attracts a maximum 14-year jail term.
Dressed in a light blue suit, Kasambara looked calm as the judge read the ruling. On the other hand, Manondo, clad in a pair of jeans trousers, often bowed his head and did not offer eye contact throughout the delivery of the judgement. Kumwembe, ever the soldier, dressed in his usual black suit, was the most composed as Mtambo went about unveiling the verdict to change the trio’s future.
In his ruling, Mtambo said the State needed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that there was conspiracy to murder Mphwiyo and that an attempt on his life was made by the accused persons.
He said: “Conspiracies are done in secret, but the burden of proving the truth remains with the State.”
The judge threw away several exhibits and testimonies of alibi that had been paraded, describing them as clear lies lacking authenticity and made it difficult for him to distinguish which side was telling the least lies.
Said Mtambo: “The first accused person, Macdonald Kumwembe, brought in his passport as part of evidence which had stamps of him leaving Malawi to Mozambique on 30th August and re-entering Malawi on the 14th of September, a day after the shooting of Mphwiyo. The immigration stamps from Mozambique and Dedza borders are not enough alibi.”
However, the judge found that alibi suspicious in view of the fact that call logs presented by officials from Airtel Malawi put Kumwembe near the location of the crime scene on the day he allegedly returned into the country but was, coincidentally, the night of Mphwiyo’s shooting.
The judge also ruled that Kumwembe had lied that during the time he was in Mozambique, his phone was in the custody of his blood relation, Luciano Chiumbudzo.
The judge said the call logs traced Kumwembe and Pika Monondo conversing. Kumwembe, who was living in Bvumbwe, Thyolo around the time of the shooting, was seen moving to Lilongwe through Zomba, while Manondo moved from Lilongwe.
To prove the charge of conspiracy, Mtambo said the two met in Dedza, after the shooting, agreeing with Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale’s assertions that the two went to the border to create the passport alibi and allow Kumwembe collect his pay. It was this money which was later apprehended by the police in a resthouse in Bvumbwe, the judge observed.
Kumwembe had told the court that the money was stolen at Shoprite in Blantyre and he was simply sharing the loot with a friend.
On Manondo, who was described as an “errand boy” for Kasambara by Kachale, Mtambo found some anomaly in his documentation and alibi.
He told the court that Manondo’s alibi, which was presented late in the proceedings, was manufactured. He also said Manondo lied that he was at Chez Ntemba—an entertainment joint in Lilongwe—during the time of the shooting.
According to Mtambo, Manondo’s alibi told the court that he had not discussed his testimony further, proving that the alibi was manufactured and that it was not possible for one to go to a drinking joint and be seen by one person only.
The judge then told the court the sequential events of phone conversations among the trio, which emanated from Airtel call logs soon after the shooting of Mphwiyo.
“After the shooting, between Kasambara and Manondo, about 14 short messages [SMS] were exchanged in a space of one hour, and during this time, Manondo only slept for an hour, because he was also constantly talking to Kumwembe,” he said.
After discrediting the testimony of Kasambara’s maid, Jessie Mussa, Mtambo, however, described it as brave and forthright, despite some inconsistencies.
On the charge of attempted murder, Mtambo said while Mphwiyo’s description of a small youngman at the scene of the crime could describe Manondo, that alone was not enough evidence to convict him on the charge and as such the victim did not see him at that Area 43 house.
However, he narrated that call logs put Manondo on or near the scene of the crime, even though that was not enough to convict a person without additional evidence.