ACB not ready for Chaponda’s corruption trial, says defence lawyer Jai: Rejects to move case to Lilongwe

Lawyer Jai Banda for George Thapatula Chaponda—the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and Leader of the House – has said the graft busting body, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is not ready to prosecute Chaponda  and two others in connection with the dubious Zambia maize imports.

Chaponda: Accused of corruption

Chaponda’s lead attorney Jai Banda speak to reporters

Banda said on Tuesday at Blantyre Magistrate Court when ACB  requested that the three cases be consolidated, and that the trial be held in Lilongwe.

ACB arrested Chaponda alongside Rashid Tayub, director of Transglobe Produce Export Limited—a farm produce trading company—and Grace Mijiga Mhango, a businessperson who chairs the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA).

The three were arrested on July 19 this year in connection with their respective roles in the procurement and importation of maize from Zambia last year in an attempt to fight off food shortage that had wrecked the country following a poor harvest.

ACB deputy director-general Reyneck Matemba, who is also prosecuting, said they want to consolidate the case of the trio , and that the trial be held in Lilongwe.

“We want the case to be  transferred  to the capital city Lilongwe because that is where the offence took place,” said Matemba.

But defence lawyer  agree there is no need for the case to be moved to Lilongwe, Blantyre is just fine.

In the matter, there are nine lawyers with the State legal team led by Matemba assisted by ACB principal prosecution officers Macmillan Chakhala and Imran Saidi.

On the other side, Chaponda is being represented by private practice lawyers Tamando Chokotho, Madaliso Mmeta, Frank Mbeta and Jai Banda while Tayub has Jai Banda, Lusungu Gondwe and Madalo Banda.

Blantyre chief resident magistrate Simeon Mdeza had set 14 September for the hearing on the matter with primary considerations on consolidation of the case.

“We are happy that the court has put a date for the consolidation,” Matemba said, explaining that  before the prosecution is served with a consolidation they want disclosures which will give an outline of  evidence.

Chaponda, considered one of the most powerful Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials where he serves as vice-president (Southern Region), was arrested albeit long overdue following forensic investigation of suitcases stashed with cash – US$58,000 and MK124 million seized at his house during the raid in February this year.

He was charged with the offences of misuse of public office and possession of foreign currency without the lawful justification whereas Tayub was charged with the offence of influencing a public officer to misuse public office while Mhango was charged with forgery and both pleaded not guilty to the counts.

Chaponda justified why he is cash-rich after they confiscated at least K166 million stashed in suitcases at his house, saying he has worked for the United Nations (UN) for over 20 years and has his own investment..

He also submitted his assets declaration form to ACB which indicates he hold many bank accounts in foreign countries where he worked for UN.

A lists of assets Chaponda declared as of February 1, 2017 seen by Nyasa Times shows that he has 20 real estate properties in Lilongwe, Blantyre, France, Luchenza, Mangochi, Thyolo and Chiradzulu.

Legal commentator based at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, Professor Danwood Chirwa argued that Chaponda has “committed or is alleged to have committed a litany of legal infringements including flouting procurement law, gross negligence in the discharge of his public duties, perjury, arson, corruption and money laundering.”

University of Malawi political scientist Boniface Dulani is in record saying that the decision to fire Chaponda from Cabinet was forced on President Peter Mutharika who would have maintained the minister if he had his way.

Dulani said the maizegate—just like Cashgate on Joyce Banda—will forever be associated with the Mutharika’s regime.

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