Court acquits Malawi online journalist on extortion charge

Blantyre Magistrate Court has acquitted Malawi Voice online editor, Justice Mponda on charges of trying to extort money and immediately rewarded him K500,000, which was the centre of attention in the case.

Mponda was arrested last year following allegations by the ruling People’s Party (PP) deputy administrative secretary, Joseph Chikwemba that he demanded from him the sum of half million Kwacha inorder to not publish several stories linking him (Chikwemba) and his political associates to massive theft of public funds.

Judgment In his judgment on Tuesday afternoon, Senior Resident Magistrate, Viva Nyimba discredited the State’s evidence, describing it as unreliable, adding there was no shred of proof to deduce the accused committed the offense.

Nyimba said the evidence and testimonies by two witnesses failed to demonstrate that there were threats or pressure from the accused, which are main factors to be considered when determining act of extortion as stipulated in the Criminal procedures and Evidence Code.

Journalist Mponda (left) with his lawyer Chancy Gondwe

Journalist Mponda (left) with his lawyer Chancy Gondwe

Nyimba also argued that he has been forced to acquit Mponda due to failure by the prosecution lawyers, Jairos Chafunsa and Chimwemwe Kalua, to produce published articles the accused is said to have removed from Malawi Voice website that were damaging the reputation of the President Joyce Banda and her family.

In his judgment Nyimba further argued the court could not guess who the author of the said articles was-as it was noted it was not Mponda who wrote them-and blamed the State for failing to track down the author to testify in court.

“In absence of such exhibit (published articles) it’s hard for the court to assess whether the accused committed the offence. Chikwemba told the court that there were no threats or pressure, which is major component for extortion,” said Nyimba.

He added:”All evidence tendered discredit allegations that it was the accused that was extorting the money. The money, instead, was a reward on agreed contract to establish another Malawi Voice website to write positive stories for the first family”.

Nyimba then noted that the failure by the State to call Geoffrey Kachale son to President Joyce Banda weakened the case since he was principal material witness, adding the State failed its job by not tendering in court published articles Mponda is said to have removed from Malawi Voice website in favour of Kachale.

Mponda was all smiling with the judgment and raised his hands in act of joy, when Nyimba ruled that the money involved in the case, which was in court’s possession, should be rewarded to him.

Nyimba argued Mponda deserved the money as it was proven in court through the State’s witnesses that it was a reward or as ‘thank you’ for his job of removing two stories on Malawi Voice website as requested by Geoffrey Kachale  (President Banda’s son) through Chikwemba.

Earlier on before reading out his judgment, the magistrate argued that his determination was not politically influenced and challenged it was made independently and impartially based on rule of law and evidence tendered in court.

“This case has attracted media attention and political sensation all because it involves media person and party political officials. But I will decide in independent and impartial manner in regards to laws and facts. There will be no political interference in my judgment”.

State Advocate, Jairos Chafunsa said in an interview afterwards the prosecution team would meet first before deciding to appeal against the ruling or not within 30 days as stipulated by Nyimba.

Background

Mponda was arrested last year following allegations that on October 29th and November 1 same year threatened Chikwemba to pay K500, 000 or will write publish several stories linking him (Chikwemba) and his political associates to massive theft of public funds.

Chikwemba soon to be First Secretary for Investments at the country’s Embassy in Japan revealed in court earlier this month that Mponda asked for K250,000 for each story removed as a ‘thank you’ which Geoff had agreed to pay before involving the police.

Chikwemba’s testimony was made after Blantyre police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer, Sergeant Chikalipo revealed told the same court that the money involved in the case was initially Chikwemba’s reward to Mponda for ‘a certain job’ he had for him.

Mponda was last year cleared from the courts on charges of insulting President Joyce Banda and publishing false information.

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