Following the Zomba Senior Magistrate Paul Chiotcha’s acquittal of former minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda and businessperson Rashid Tayub in the Zambian maize procurement case, lawyers for the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) were not confident that they could appeal while the defence said they are comfortable with the ruling.
On Friday, the court acquitted Chaponda in all three charges which include giving false information to Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB), influencing a public officer to misuse his position and possession of foreign currency.
Tayub was also said to have no case on the charge of persuading a public officer to misuse his position but they both denied the charges.
In his ruling which took close to two hours, Chiotcha said the State has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the two committed the offences.
The court was of the view that the evidence by the prosecution failed to disclose the elements of the case and the attempts to do so were covered and discredited through cross examinations by the defence.
Among other shortfalls, the court cited the use of evidence which was hearsay and the use of wrong sections particularly on the first charge of Chaponda, saying the court could not help the State to dispute Chaponda’s license to possess foreign currency after their own witness Minister of Finance and Development Planning Goodall Gondwe testified that he issued the permit to Chaponda both as an individual as well as a minister.
“In cross examination, it was revealed that the first accused had a permit from the Minister of Finance to keep foreign currency, the first accused did not give false information on the procurement of maize, Transglobe has a licence to import maize from Zambia and that it is not wrong for a business person to approach a public officer for business,” he said before a full court room.
“We cannot accept his evidence only where they agree with him and not where they disagree with him. If they wanted to disagree with their own witness they should have turned him into a hostile witness. All in all, if the evidence of the State is anything to go by and the cross examination am satisfied the first accused person was justified to posses the said currency,” said Chiotcha in his ruling.
He acknowledged that a lot of arguments and a lot of issues were raised in the case but the court had to weigh the facts before coming up with the ruling.
Chiotcha further said the whole process of purchasing maize from Zambia was not an ordinary transaction by Admarc.
“We heard in this court that at that particular time, the country was on the verge of facing acute food shortage. The government was under panic, with the failure by Zambian company to supply maize, the minister of Agriculture directed Admarc to look if there was any local supplier who can supply maize from Zambia.
“It was unreasonable for a minister to stay put when there was a supplier who can supply maize because the said supplier donated floor to his constituents,” he said.
On Tayub, the Magistrate said it was not wrong for Transglobe approaching the Minister of Finance for a business deal because evidence had shown that the ministry was involved in the procurement of maize.
“Further to that, Mr Mulumbe (Former Admarc CEO) told the court that he was receiving pressure from Capital Hill and not someone else. So while is supposed to answer to this charge? the state has failed to put a case against the accused,” he said.
Chiotcha further ruled that the state should return all the money and property seized from the accused unless if there is any lawful justification to keep the same.
The State has been given 30 days to appeal the case.
After the ruling, lead prosecutor MacMillan Chakhala was reluctant to say if they will appeal against the ruling.
“We respect what the court has said but we cannot say we are satisfied. As for our options we will sit down with the director general, investigators and prosecutors… As regards to appealing the matter that will be up to the director general because we prosecute on his behalf,” said Chakhala.
He however agreed that the court was right on the third count of the first accused (Dr Chaponda) of possessing foreign currency but said he had some issues with the ruling on other charges.
Chaponda’s lead lawyer Tamando Chokhotho said he was satisfied with the ruling.
“We are very happy and satisfied, the court is independent and cannot be carried away by the social media,” he said.
Tayub’s l awyer Jai Banda said they are ready even if the state appeals against the ruling.
“Appealing is a waste of time and government resources. However, if they go ahead then we are ready,” he said.
Chaponda, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice-president for Southern Region, was arrested last year alongside Tayub, director of TransGlobe, for suspected corrupt practices.
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