Key witness in Chilumpha’s treason denies knowledge

By Wanga Gwede, Nyasa Times

Malawi government’s key witness in the case former vice-president Dr Cassim Chilumpha is accused of plotting to assassinate President Bingu wa Mutharika, says he does not know anything about the case.

South African national Graham Raymond Alistair Minnaar who was allegedly hired by Chilumpha as an assassin and is expected to testify when the trial resumes on October 4, says he knows nothing about the case despite being identified in the court documents as main witness together with Malawian resident in South Africa, Thomas Elias Ndlovu.

“I am not aware of the case and I don’t know Dr Cassim Chilumpha and I have never been in Malawi. I am in South Africa and nobody has called me to be a witness.”  Minnaar is quoted by Mail & Guardian online.

Chilumpha and his co-accused, Yusuf Matumula, have pleaded not guilty to charges of treason and of conspiracy to murder.

Malawi’s former vice-president, Cassim Chilumpha (at top, second from right), and Yusuf Matumula (top right) in Blantyre. They are accused of plotting to kill President Bingu wa Mutharika. (Eldson Chagara, Reuters)

He was arrested in 2006, a few months after Mutharika dumped the United Democratic Front (UDF), the party that ushered him into office, and formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) while Chilumpha remained in the UDF.

President Mutharika tried to sack Chilumpha earlier, saying he was being disrespectful and was absconding from cabinet and government meetings. But the dismissal was overturned by the court which said the president had no constitutional powers to sack his deputy.

The Malawian government claims to have a recording of the conversation between Chilumpha and the alleged conspirators concerning the assassination plot.

M&G  reports that Minnaar has a reputation of being an information peddler, who previously worked for both the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the South African Secret Service (SASS), and had contact with the Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions) when it still existed.

In an affidavit for an application to have the identities of Minnaar and Ndlovu publicly disclosed, Chilumpha said that, when he was released on bail in 2006, he had found information that, during the time of Mutharika’s predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, a white South African male had approached a Malawian official at the Malawi embassy with information about a plot by two named prominent leaders of the opposition to kill Muluzi. Chilumpha said he needed to establish whether that person was Minnaar.

Chilumpha also said that a statement from another state witness, Jacobus van Schalkwyk, showed that Minnaar was introduced to Van Schalkwyk by Dr Nel Marais, a risk consultant based in South Africa.

According to M&G quoting court papers,  Chilumpha said: “With Minnaar’s links to Marais, I am anxious to know whether, and to what extent, Minnaar is in the defence and security business in Africa and whether … he is a trickster who operates in the dishonest and brutal underworld.”

Marais has said he knew the two people mentioned by Chilumpha. “I had infrequent social interaction with both Minnaar and Van Schalkwyk during the past few years,” he is quoted saying.

Nyasa Times  first revealed a memorandum of understanding between the Malawian government and Minnaar and Ndlovu, signed in May 2006 in which the Mutharika administration promised to pay the two witnesses from the time they were identified in May 2006 until the case was concluded.

On other costs to the case, the Malawi government could be spending K10 million (about $65 789) monthly in legal fees alone for London-based Queen’s Counsel (QC), Anthony Berry.

Berry is in a team comprising Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Rosemary Kanyuka and three other local lawyers.

According to Kanyuka, government had already flown in 15 foreign witnesses from South Africa and Denmark. Government could be spending K240 000 (about $1 578) a day to accommodate them in five-star hotels at a charge of K16 000 (about $105) a night, the paper reported.—(The M&G story was written by Malawian journalist Theresa Chapulapula and Sam Sole)

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