After a heated debate on Tuesday, Chikwawa Magistrate Court transferred the case involving over 30 encroachers that were found cutting down Mopan Tree Species at Lengwe National Park to the Chief Resident Magistrate Court in Blantyre.
The suspects; 23 Mozambicans, 2 Chinese and 10 Malawians were caught last week with several equipment including; chisels, six tractors, three motor bikes, a Volvo Lorry and two land cruisers doing illegal activities in the park.
State prosecutor Inspector Dovito Makawa told the court that he had received information that the Regional Prosecution Officer for the south wanted to take over the case meaning that the case should be transferred to the Chief Resident Magistrate.
He added: “there were possibilities to add more counts apart from the four offences which the suspects were charged with.”
The counts that the suspects are facing are; entering the national park without permit, entering the park with weapons and cutting down of trees in the park which are contrary to section 32 and 110 of the national parks and wildlife Act and illegal entry into Malawi which is contrary to section 21 and 37 of the Immigration Act.
The prosecutor then asked for a brief adjournment to pave way for the arrival of the regional prosecutor.
But the defense council led by Joseph Kamkwesi of Joe and Max Chambers argued that it was improper to transfer the case to Blantyre considering that the alleged offense was committed in Chikwawa.
“I believe that Chikwawa Magistrate Court is competent enough to handle the case. Let me remind the state that all the four counts are misdemeanors. Even the Chief Justice warned about judge shopping, it is not good to choose a specific magistrate to manage a particular case,” he said, emphasizing that the laws were clear.
As the two sides were busy arguing, the suspects of which most are Mozambicans had difficulties to grasp what was being said in the court and they just watched events unfold.
Chikwawa Second Grade Magistrate Joram Zebron then adjourned the case for 10 minutes to write a ruling on the application.
Moreover, the magistrate called on security departments like police to have and train special officers who can understand languages including Portuguese and Swahili for easy management of such cases.
“The country largely boarders Mozambique and Tanzania, and there is need to have deliberate mechanisms to manage cases committed by people from neighboring countries,” the magistrate said.
On the request to transfer the case to Blantyre, the magistrate said he has the competence to handle the case but does not want to be seen as clinging to the case but rather accepting the request to handover the case to the Chief Resident Magistrate.
He then extended the remand warrant for the suspects to 10 November, 2016 as their lawyers are running up and down to bail them out.
The court session was also attended by Director of Parks and Wildlife Bright Kumchedwa, immigration officers and various heads of government departments.
But later drama erupted at Chikwawa Police as the Mozambican suspects refused to board a prison vehicle to Blantyre. After some 10 minutes of wrestling with police, the 36 suspects were handcuffed and forced into the prison lorry.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :