Malawi court discharges Chikago unconditionally

The Blantyre High Court has unconditionally discharged former Malawian ambassador to Japan Dr. John Chikago in a corruption matter he was co-charged  with former President, Bakili Muluzi.

Judge Healey Potani has set free Chikago five years since his arrest following application by his lawyer, Chancy Gondwe, under Section 302(a) of the Criminal procedures and Evidence Code, on argument that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has no evidence to prosecute him.

Justice Potani in his ruling delivered on Thursday evening argued that Chikago’s Constitutional right has been compromised following ACB’s delay to prosecute since 2009 when he was re-arrested on corruption allegations.

Chikago: Freed

Chikago: Freed

ACB once arrested Chikago in March 2006 for allegedly stealing K5 million while serving as the country’s envoy in Japan. He was charged before Blantyre Magistrates Court but was subsequently discharged due to lack of evidence.

The anti-graft body re-arrested him in March 2009 after he had turned down an offer to become State witness to testify against Muluzi-regarded as first accused in the case; and the two were jointly charged with corruption allegations levelled against Chikago during his first arrest.

It was however noted in court that, Chikago had made a pact with ACB to turn State witness and was given a window to apply to court to be tried separately upon which he would be acquitted as the State had undertaken to offer no evidence against him.

Application for discharge

Lawyer Gondwe applied to the court to discharge his client following the State’s failure to prosecute him due to lack of evidence.

Gondwe argued that the State’s lack of evidence against Chikago prompted ACB to initiate a plea bargain to use him as a witness against Muluzi.

But, ACB lawyer, Clement Masauko Mwala despite not objecting to Chikago’s application for discharge, challenged that they have always had evidence to prosecute the accused but could not do so in the light of agreement to turn him a State witness.

Mwale argued that the trial had delayed due to failure by Chikago to apply for a separate trial which could have resulted in his acquittal, adding his discharge does not automatically stop him from becoming state witness.

“The interest of the State is only to see the accused out of this case so as to be utilized as a State witness at a later stage,” said Mwale.

Ruling

In his ruling, Potani pointed out that for five years the case made no noted progress worth talking with Chikago not even taking his plea, adding the accused has right to a fair trial which obliges the State to try him within a reasonable time.

“Clearly therefore [Chikago’s]  Constitutional right has been compromised. In the light and by reason of the foregoing, the court would invoke its inherent jurisdiction and accordingly order that the 2nd accused be unconditionally discharged from these proceedings as per his prayer to the court”.

Potani however pointed out that the agreement Chikago entered with ACB to turn State Witness was still subsisting despite his lawyer, Gondwe claiming the unconditional discharge out-rightly freed him from it.

Chikago, who is credited for the popular One Village One Product (OVOP) initiative during Muluzi led administration, won another legal battle with the Industrial Relations Court in the year 2008, when the court ordered government to pay him K4, 437, 000.00 in compensation for unfair and unlawful termination of employment.

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