High Court registrar and the Director of Public Prosecutions are looking for a spacious room in Lilongwe to turn it into a court room to accommodate former budget director Paul Mphwiyo and 18 others charged with several counts, including theft and money laundering K2.4 billion ($3.3 million).
Meyer Chisanga, lead lawyer for Mphwiyo brought to the attention of the judge that the court room was too small to accommodate 19 defendants, 15 lawyers, journalists and the public.
This was after the court met on Wednesday for a full day hearing and from the start it was noted the room was too small as most of people who came to be in the public gallery failed to enter.
Director of Public Prosecutions Mary Kachale agreed with Chisanga.
The judge then ruled that the offices of the High Court registrar and the DPP should identify a spacious place where the court should sit when it meets on May 11.
Kachali said it was most likely that the court will sit elsewhere in Lilongwe away from Lilongwe High Court registry court rooms.
Before this, the DPP and the lawyers for defendants battled it out on legal technicalities.
Paul Mphwiyo and the 18 others are accused of plundering public resources infamously known as cashgate to the tune of K30 billion.
Mphwiyo, who is believed to be the master minder of the looting of government resources, was expected to take plea to four charges that was levelled against him by the state in the court in December 2015 together with 18 others, including civil servants such as former Accountant General David Kandoje, Auzius Kazombo Mwale, Clemence Mmadzi and Roosevelt Ndovi, but also contractors such as Stafford Mpoola.
Other suspects are businessman Limumba Karim, an expert in information technologies (IT) Steve Likhunya Phiri, George Banda, Michael Mphatso, Samuel Mzanda and Maxwell Namata who are facing charges of fraud, negligence by public office, money laundering, theft by public servant, theft by servant and conspiracy to defraud government K2 446 817 450.49.
But soon after the start of the court session, one of the defence lawyers, Titus Mvalo SC, asked the court that the plea shouldn’t take place as they want to raise preliminary objections.
He said the defence received a new charge sheet just a day before the court and they have issue to raise on the new charge sheet.
Among others, lawyer Mvalo SC raised the change of count one which is conspiracy to defraud government the sum of K2, 444,817,450.49 which its dates have been changed as the earlier sheet was indicating 1st April 2013 to 30th July 2013 as the period the accused conspired with his friends but now it has been charged to the period of between 30th July 2013 to 30th September 2013.
And also that count number 6 which is Abuse of Public Office, contrary to section 25B (1) of the corrupt practices Act and count 7 of Money laundering has also some changes.
Senior Counsel Mvalo also said his client can’t take plea as he is yet to read the new charge sheet and in order for him and others to have a fair trial they need to go through the revised charges before they take plea.
DPP Kachale agreed that indeed there are some changes but was of the view that still the accused persons could have proceed and take plea.
Justice Esmie Chombo ruled that the case be adjourned to give ample time for the accused persons go through the new charge sheet that will help them to take plea.
Chombo adjourned the case to 11th May, 2016 also to allow the state led by Kachale file the last documents which they are waiting from Softech.
Apart from being lead prosecutor in the Mphwiyo shooting case which adjourned last Friday to resume on February 17, Kachale is also the main prosecutor in several Cashgate cases.
Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has been handling some of the Cashgate cases while others are being handled jointly with the DPP.
Mphwiyo’s shooting on 13 September 2013 led to the unravelling of the systematic looting of millions of government money dubbed ‘cashgate’ and the resultant discovery that up to US $30 million was minted from the government payment system, where politicians and businessmen colluded with civil servants for payments for goods and services not rendered to government.
Soon after Mphwiyo’s shooting millions of cash in Malawi kwacha, US dollars and South African rands started pitching up in unlikely places like in car trunks, baby dolls, under beds or in pillow cases. –-Additional reporting by Owen Khamula, Nyasa TimesFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :