Malawi court convicts Nigerian evangelist for illegal forex

Blantyre Magistrates court has convicted and fined K200,000 a South Africa based Nigerian Prince Chukudi Agu for being found in possession of foreign exchange currency without documentation.

Prince was arrested by police on March 1, 2012 at Chileka Airport on his way to South Africa and was found in possession of US$ 14,000 (approximately 2.3 million Kwacha) 28, 000 South African rands (approximately K644,000) and 16, 350 Mozambican Meticash (approximately K114,450).

He was since charged with three counts, failure to declare forex when and leaving the country, withholding forex without permit from Reserve bank of Malawi or Minister of Finance, and attempt to transport forex without permission.

Prince who claimed is an evangelist and was on missionary trip, pleaded guilty to charges upon his arrest before given police bail.

And on Wednesday, the court found him guilty of the offences and sentenced him thereof.
Before the ruling, there were heated arguments between the state and defense lawyers as both sides presented facts in order to win the case.

Prosecution arguments

In its presentation to the court, the state team comprised of police prosecutor Happy Mkandawire and lawyer Thabo Nyirenda urged the court not to be too lenient in its judgment considering the nature of the case.

Nyirenda argued that the accused had failed to make due account for the foreign exchange currency in his possession later alone to declare it when entering the country.

He further argued that the accused had failed to disclose the source of the forex and could not produce supporting legal documents, an indication that the money was from illegal source.

“The minimum forex one is required to withhold is not more than US$ 5,000 according to regulations, but in this case the accused was found with large amount of forex that has no supporting documents on where he sourced it and authorization to transport it.

“I ask the court therefore to forfeit the forex since it was well-planned move to siphon forex out of the country. As evangelist, the accused was expected to live by example. The court needs to pass its ruling in regards to laws applicable and not allowing the offender benefiting from his crime,” Nyirenda argued.

Defence arguments

But in defence, Prince Chukudi’s lawyer Noel Chalamanda asked the court to charge his client with one count since it was single act that was committed in the crime based on section 11 (sub 1) of Exchange Control Regulations Act and that is of attempt to transport forex illegally.

Chalamanda argued that the court need to consider the fact his client was first offender and that was cooperative when arrested.

“There is no indication that the money was from illegal source, by not accounting for the money did not mean it’s from illegal source, that argument is illogical by high standards. There is a need for court to consider that there is a short supply of forex in the country and the accused should not be pushed for such,” Chalamanda counter-argued.

He further asked the court not to forfeit the money but instead give it back in local currency equivalent to detained amount or allow the accused open Foreign Exchange Dominated Account to deposit the account.

Sentencing

In his ruling Magistrates Innocent Nebi fined Chukudi on first count K100,000 or spend eight month in jail, on second he fined him K50,000 of four months in Prison with Hard Labour (IHL) and on third K50,000 or four months IHL.

Nebi also quashed the proposal to forfeit the detained forex and ruled that the accused be given back the money but in Kwacha equivalent to the currency involved in the case.

The Magistrate said he gave lenient punishment due to the fact the Chukudi was first offender and that he was cooperative during the arrest and court trial.

According to Exchange Control Regulations Act one is required to withhold forex in not amounting to more than USD5, 000 and if one violates the stipulation the crime attracts a fine of K25, 000 or three years in Prison with Hard Labour (IHL).

Meanwhile, the state has appealed on the decision by the court to return the money to Chukudi and the court is yet to make its ruling on the appeal and stay order demanding the court not to dispose the withheld forex.

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