Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal has granted bail to former justice minister Ralph Kasambara who has been given serving a 13-year jail term for conspiracy to murder a civil servant, in a crime believed to be linked to a multi-million dollar corruption ring, as he is pending appeal on his conviction.
Kasambara was sentenced for his role in the attempted murder of ex-National Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo. He was convicted alongside MacDonald Kumwembe and Pika Manondo and they were all seeking bail.
But Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Dunstan Mwaungulu, sitting as a single Supreme Court Judge, only released on Wednesday when he delivered his ruling.
Mwaungulu heard submissions from Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale and lawyers for the trio, namely Modecai Msisha, Senior Counsel (SC), Michael Goba Chipeta and Lusungu Gondwe.
In his determination. Mwaungulu noted that in convicting Kasambara the High Court judge Micheal Mtambo has evidently relied on call logs which did not place Kasambara anywhere near the scene of the crime.
The day Mphwiyo was shot outside the gate of his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe, Kasambara was meeting former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
The trio, who have spent 20 months at Zomba Central Prison, have since filed an appeal against their conviction.
In the appeal, the trio, among others, argues that High Court judge Dr Michael Mtambo erred in sentencing them based on phone call logs and that based on the pending appeal, they want the court to release them on bail.
In August 2016, Mtambo sentenced Kasambara to 13 years imprisonment for conspiring to murder Mphwiyo outside the gate of his house in Lilongwe’s Area 43 residential estate on September 13 2013.
Manondo and Kumwembe were given 15 years prison terms for attempting to murder Mphwiyo.
Mphwiyo survived the bullets fired by assassins that lurked in the dark at the gate of his house. He was rushed to the Masm Clinic few blocks away from his house before being taken to Kamuzu Central Hospital. Days later, he was airlifted to South Africa.
However, Mphwiyo’s initial reputation as an anti-corruption crusader was dented by his own arrest on Cashgate-related charges which he is currently answering in court.
Legal commentary from barrister Allan Ntata
In their case, Mphwiyo was about to expose Kasambara’s role in the cashgate scandal and that was the motive behind the attempt on his life. But if this was the motive and the prosecution truly believe that this was the reason for Kasambara conspiring to murder Mphwiyo, why is the same prosecutor also accusing Mphwiyo of Cashgate related offences in a separate case also currently in the courts?
Are we to believe that Mphwiyo, the victim of a murder conspiracy and an attempt on his life for fighting Cashgate, is also its mastermind and instigator? It is a sad contradiction for the future as it may discourage other whistle-blowers.
A future potential whistle-blower may decide to keep their mouth shut for fear of being considered criminal masterminds!
If in our governance system, we allow for this kind of contradictory thinking to continue, it will be very difficult for the country to move forward, especially in matters of corruption and government malfeasance.
Those that are given the responsibility of safeguarding the country’s criminal justice system need to be more competent and more consistent in their thinking.
The Kasambara trial may have scored points for the government, but for me, it leaves a rather conspicuous governance sour taste in the mouth.
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