Malawi adjourns treason trial of Mutharika and others: Judge orders ‘re-work charge sheet’

High Court Judge Esmie Chombo has adjourned a treason trial against the brother of former president Bingu Wa Mutharika and other high-ranking ex-government officials who are members of Mutharika Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to undisclosed date.

Mutharika, former foreign minister who is one of the leading contenders for the May 20 presidential race, and other high-profile figures had been at Lilongwe High Court registry  on Wednesday for allegedly trying to get the military to stage a coup.

There was a heavy police presence outside court, where hundreds of supporters of DPP gathered and chanted.

The adjournment follows arguments by one of the lawyers for the accused, Titus Mvalo, argued that particulars of the offences are not clear and could jeopardise fair trial.

Prosecution has used words like “divers”, places “in and around Lilongwe”, “between 5 and 7 April 2012” and “with unknown persons.”

Mutharika  and others in court

Mutharika and others in court

Mvalo also argued that treason and mutiny are the same charges and cannot be separated, a notion which was shot down by Judge Chombo.

The Judge however ruled that the prosecution should re-work the charge sheet to include names of people and places before the accused can take plea again.

Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Bruno Kalemba indicated to the court that they will go back and file the fresh charges within a week.

Mutharika was in the dock with former chief secretary to the government Bright Msaka, former Cabinet ministers Goodall Gondwe and Jean Kalilani, who is also DPP secretary general.

They face charges in relation to the roles they played during the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012  and in handling the transition.

They are accused of trying to circumvent constitutional order to block President Joyce Banda, Mutharika’s estranged State vice-president then, from ascending to the presidency after the death.

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.

Former presidential legal adviser Allan Ntata was charged in absentia as he is in England.

The suspects who deny any wrong doing, argue that the case is politically motivated.

Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack on April 5, 2012. According to Malawi’s constitution, the vice president is to be sworn in following the death of a sitting president.

The government contends that the accused officials undermined the constitution by plotting to prevent presidential succession.

Peter Mutharika, who Bingu had allegedly been preparing for presidency, asked the military to take over after his brother’s death.

Their 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.

Lawyer Mvalo addressing the court

Lawyer Mvalo addressing the court

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