Former president Bakili Muluzi yesterday braved a drizzle and cold weather in Blantyre to attend the hearing of his $11 million (about K7.6 billion at present exchange rate) corruption case which started at the High Court.
However, sooner than the court convened, presiding High Court Judge Maclean proceedings to Thursday this week to allow a prosecution witness fuifil a medical appointment.Kamwambe adjourned
Muluzi—who was president between 1994 and 2004—and his then personal assistant Violet Whisky are accused of misappropriating an equivalent of $11 million in public funds during his tenure of office.
The case was back in court after Muluzi’s lawyers in January this year withdrew their application for the Chief Justice to certify that the matter goes for constitutional review to determine whether the charges against the accused were politically motivated.
But when proceedings started yesterday, the State indicated that the first prosecution witness, Victor Banda, was unavailable for cross examination because he had a medical appointment on Wednesday at Embangweni in Mzimba where he currently resides.
Banda served as an investigator and assistant director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in its formative years during Muluzi’s term of office.
In Banda’s absence, the State requested the court that for the sake of progress, they would parade another witness, Wilson Milanzi, who was readily available within Blantyre then continue with Banda on Thursday.
However, in their submission, defence lawyers—Tamando Chokotho and Jai Banda—objected to the request, saying they were not ready to interrogate Milanzi as they had prepared questions for Banda; hence, the need to wait for him.
The defence also argued that there was no procedure that allows a trial to be conducted in a disorderly manner.
Making his ruling, Kamwambe said the court was caught unawares with the development and adjourned the proceedings to Thursday.
But in an interview later, ACB deputy director Reyneck Matemba, who represented the State, said there was nothing strange in requesting to start trial with the second witness on the list. He said: “This happens as you have heard the court saying that there is a precedent. But may be due to the complexity of the case it would have been difficult to leave the second witness without concluding the cross-examination then back to the first witness but there are no objections.”
However, Matemba said the State was keen to see the matter come to its logical conclusion.
The High Court is expected to conclude hearing the case by April 22 2016 with any extensions restricted to the first week of May.
The case dates back to 2006 and has now taken more than 10 years due to numerous adjournments mainly attributed to the former president’s ill health and objections from the defence.
During yesterday’s hearing, Muluzi was present sporting his usual charismatic face and was seen escorted by scores of friends and family, among them his first-born daughter Esmie Malisita and his sister Esnat Phiri.
Also present were United Democratic Front (UDF) third vice-president Charles Chikuwo, secretary general Kandi Padambo, publicity secretary Ken Ndanga, Machinga Likwenu member of Parliament (MP) David Lalli and Mangochi South MP Lillian Patel.
Former Cabinet ministers and MPs during Muluzi’s era—Patrick Mbewe and Peter Fachi—were also at the court. n