Judge Chombo forced to recuse herself in Mphwiyo shooting case: Updated

High Court Judge Esmie Chombo in the capital Lilongwe on Wednesday was forced to recuse herself in a case former Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara and Pika Manondo are accused of attempting to murder  former budget director Paul Mphwiyo forcing the hearing to be rescheduled.

Before the trial, Kasambara’s lawyer Lusungu Gondwe and Manondo’s attorney John Gift Mwakhwawa submitted before Justice Chombo in her Chambers that she should opt out of the case.

Makhwawa said  Judge Chombo is  “alleged that she was under pressure” in handling the case from corridors of power. He said there are certain matters through informal discussions where the judge is alleged to have been under pressure.

He said the allegation is “quite dangerous” to the process of fair trial.

Makhwawa said though the fear of unfair trial is genuine, it does not mean it is well founded “and we have nothing against the judge.”

“But the overall decion was her own, we did not pressure her to recuse herself from the case. However, all we wanted as defence was the case to  be handled proffessionally without pressure from external forces,” Makhwawa told Nyasa Times.

Gun-shot survivor Mphwiyo
Gun-shot survivor Mphwiyo

Gondwe said they feared Justice Chombo would be biased.

Judge Chombo said following the plea from the defence the right thing to do would be for her to pass the case onto another judge.

“It wouldn’t be right for me to hear this case,” she said as she opted out.

“Following their application, the Judge recused herself from the case and we will communicate after discussing with the
Registrar on the way forward,” said Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Bruno Kalemba after the adjournment.

However, Kalemba did not hide his frustration on the development.

“It means we are delayed because we were ready to start the case today,”  he said.

A few people who came to the court but were overshadowed by a lot of police officers, were interested to see gun-shot survivor Mphwiyo who came to court surrounded by security men in black suits.

He was to be the first state witness in the case.

The shooting of Mphwiyo in September opened a Pandora box of the massive looting of public resources dubbed “cashgate.”

In a sworn affidavit, Mphwiyo who was shot as he drove into his Area 43 home in Lilongwe—  said he was receiving death threats prior to his fate.

The 37-year-old former budget chief claims he was receiving phones threatening his life in connection with his tough public finance and economic management measures that that have closed pilfering loopholes at Capital Hill.

Kasambara has denied any wrong doing in the shooting of Mphwiyo. He was however arrested last month on a separate charge of money laundering and was released on bail. He also denies the charges.

In the matter, ruling People’s Party spokesman Hophmally Makande is being implicated.

Five people being charged with attempted murder and  conspiracy to commit murder are former Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara, businessperson Pika Manondo, Dauka Manondo, Robert Kadzuwa and Macdonald Kumwembe.

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