Mist over Malawi ex-president Joyce Banda warrant of arrest

Confusion and comedy linger over the warrant of arrest for the former Malawi President Joyce Banda following revelation that the lawyers for the country’s first female president are still struggling to establish the court which issued the warrant a situation that has left them using guess work in their efforts to challenge the warrant.

Former president Banda

The Malawi Police Service issued a statement on July 31 this year announcing that it has obtained a warrant of arrest for the former leader for what the police said were Banda’s alleged link to the plunder of money from Capital Hill.

However, as of last week lawyers for Banda have not yet established or furnished with information as to which court issued the warrant of arrest with the MPS, the High Court and even government playing hide and seek on the matter.

The defense lawyers who have since filed a challenge against the warrant of arrest, have however, been left guessing and groping in the dark even having their affidavits for the challenge filed before the High Court in Blantyre speculating that the warrant may have been issued by a magistrate court in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu or Zomba, believing it is one of these magistrates.

The lawyers are accusing MPS of infringing on Banda’s right to information and complain in their application that they have tried in vain to trace which court issued the warrant.

In an interview, Police National Spokesperson James Kadadzera said they cannot disclose where former president Joyce Banda’s supposed arrest warrant is raising question to why the police are suddenly secretive about the whole affair two months after the announcement.

Kadadzera said the police have nothing to add to the press statement they issued in July.

The Judiciary itself, which by law signs off warrants of arrests, is not sure which of their courts issued the warrant.

Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula (who granted the interview before his arrest on alleged corruption) said he did not know which magistrate court issued the warrant.

Executive Director of a local human rights body, Justice Link Justin Dzonzi expressed reservation on how the MPS is handling the whole issue observing that although the police is not obliged to disclose which court issue a warrant of arrest, the MPS’s conduct in this matter was suspicious.

He said if Banda’s lawyers are questioning the authenticity of the warrant of arrest, it would be important to know which court issued it for verification.

“As it is now, police are not legally obliged to disclose which court issued that warrant. But, of course, police’s conduct is strange. Their issuing of a press statement about the former president’s arrest sounded more of a publicity stunt. I see Malawians playing into police hands. Police, in my view, have not taken a normal process to execute the former president’s arrest, it was possible to do it without this publicity,” Dzonzi said.

Bright Theu, the lead lawyer the Banda’s defense team in the affidavits, last Friday filed the application at the High Court in Blantyre for a judicial review, in which the former President would be asking the court to quash the warrant.

The defense argues that the purported warrant of arrest was issued when there was less drastic mode of securing her presence by simply issuing summons for her attendance.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) led government has been talking about authorities being after Banda for her alleged involvement in the plunder of public funds, infamously dubbed Cashgate. The former president, however, denies the allegations, and she accuses the current administration of persecuting her.

MPS in its July 31 statement announced that it secured the warrant of arrest in February 2017 and that it had alerted Interpol (International Police) to help bring the former President back home to answer the charges.

Police claimed it alerted Interpol to help them arrest Banda and bring her to Malawi. But Banda’s name is yet to appear on Interpol’s list of wanted people.

The court is set for September 20 to hear arguments from both Banda’s lawyers and government, before determining whether to nullify the warrant of arrest.

Banda rose to power after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012 when, as State Vice-President, automatically assumed the presidency in line with the Constitution. She, however, only ruled for two years, ending her reign after the DPP candidate Arthur Peter Mutharika, defeated her in the May 2014 elections.

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