Malawi perjury case adjourned to May 15: Court to rule on preliminary matters

Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrate Ruth Chinangwa has adjourned to May 15 when it is expected to give direction on the charge of perjury involving Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Peter Mutharika, former Cabinet ministers Goodall Gondwe, Jean Kalirani and interdicted Chief Secretary to Government Bright Msaka.

The court is expected to rule on defence lawyers arguments that the transfer of the case which was already at the High Court to a magistrate court is ‘breach of justice for our clients’.

The four also face treason charges alongside seven others.

The filing of the perjury charges marked the beginning of the trial of people suspected to have committed various offences following the death of former president Bingu wa Mutharika.

Lead defence lawyer Kalekeni Kaphale asked the court to consider evaluating the validity of Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Bruno Kalemba’s discontinuation of the case from the High court and resuming it in the Magistrate court.

“We think that the accused right to a fair trial is being infringed and the DPP’s failure to properly discontinue the proceedings in the High Court means his actions were invalid and the proceedings in the Magistrate Court ought not to commence at all,” Kaphale said.

Kaphale said Kalemba miscalculated the 10-day period in which he is supposed to report to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament on the discontinuation, saying he failed to comply with the laws.

He added that the DPP’s failure to commence ‘forthwith’ with the charges in the High Court as required by the law meant the accused were not being subjected to a fair trial.

The defence lawyer suggested that the accused persons be freed on the High Court bail conditions for an offense that carries a maximum of death sentence while the DPP continues with the perjury case.

Peter Mutharika: No plea yet

Peter Mutharika: No plea yet

Kaphale told reporters outside the court that they submitted to court that “there are fundamental constitution issues that needed to be attended to.”

Ralph Mhone, prosecuting lawyer for the State, argued that there is nothing wrong for the case to be transferred to magistrate.

Mhone cited the case of a serial killer Nachipanti saying his murder charges were tried in high court while the rape case was tried in the magistrate’s court.

He maintained that the State would not abuse court process in the trial.

“The Director of Public Prosecution respected the laws of the land in discontinuing the case in the High Court because it is within his constitutional rights to do so and was required by the constitution to report to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament within 10 days of his action which he did,” said Mhone.

But Kaphale argued that the DPP did not inform Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament within 10 days of his action, demanding objective material evidence to attach weight to his claims.

Kaphale also dismissed examples the state cited :

“We distinguish their examples as poor, irrelevant and not applicable to the facts of the present case,” he said.

Magistrate Chinangwa adjourned to May 15 when she will make a ruling. The accused are yet to make a plea.

Perjury is punishable by up to seven years, according to Section 104 of the Penal Code. On the other hand, death is the ultimate.

Treason

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 and the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s former legal adviser Allan Ntata.

Whereas Mwapasa is yet to be charged, Ntata was charged in absentia as he is reported to be in United Kingdom.

The 12 are facing different charges in relation to the roles they played during the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in April last year and in handling the transition. They are accused of trying to circumvent constitutional order to block Banda, Mutharika’s estranged State vice-president then, from ascending to the presidency after the death.

The 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.

punishment for treason in terms of Section 38 of the Penal Code.

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