Mutharika to take fresh plea on Malawi treason case: ‘Which President were we planning to overthrow?’

Judge Ivy Kamanga has said opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Peter Mutharika and others who are being accused of attempting to overthrow the government in 2012 may take fresh plea if the state amends the charge sheet bordering on treason.

Mutharika, former Cabinet ministers Goodall Gondwe, Symon Vuwa Kaunda, Patricia Kaliati and Jean Kalirani; former chief secretary to the government Bright Msaka; former deputy ministers Kondwani Nankhumwa and Nicholas Dausi and former deputy chief secretary to the government Necton Mhura appeared  at the High Court in in the administrative capital Lilongwe on Thursday where they  pleaded not guilty.

Before the group dubbed ‘midnight six’ denied guilt, defence lawyer Kalekeni Kaphale raised preliminary objections , saying that they are not comfortable with some issues appearing on the charge  sheet.

“Your honour, the defence has some objections on charges before the accused persons take their plea,” said Kaphale without elaborating.

But Justice Kamanga said the defendants will have to take fresh plea once the charge sheet is amended.

Mutharika waves his supporters after court

This was the high point of Thursday’s hearing.

After Kaphale was assured, the hearing continued whereby Peter Mutharika, ex-foreign affairs minister and brother to the former president, Bingu wa Mutharika, was the first to take the stand.

When Justice Kamanga asked Mutharika if he understood the charges, he answered ‘no.’

“I don’t know which government and under whose President were we planning to overthrow.” asked Mutharika.

Peter Mutharika and other defendants are accused of trying to prevent then-vice president Joyce Banda from assuming power after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika from heart attack on April 5 last year.

Six ministers held a late-night news conference a day after Mutharika’s death, insisting he was still alive.

At the time the incumbent President Joyce Banda was the vice president, who under the constitution was next in line to become the Head of State.

But Mutharika had been grooming his brother Peter to succeed him.

President Banda was eventually sworn in on April 7.

Lawyer Kaphale told the court that the question the DPP leader asked is one of the issues that they are going to raise when objecting to the charge sheet, before the defendants continued to take plea.

“I plead not guilty,” Mutharika, a law professor, told the High Court.

Mutharika is DPP’s presidential candidate in the 2014 Tripartite Elections and his conviction on treason charges could jeopardise his chances of contesting.

Besides treason, other charges against the group include inciting a mutiny, breach of trust and conspiracy to commit a felony.

The DPP heavyweights were arrested in March this year following revelations in the commission of inquiry report into circumstances relating to Bingu’s death found that they took part in concealing his death from Malawians in an attempt to prevent the vice-president from assuming power.

All the defendants are currently on bail but they are liable to be remanded if they breach bail conditions.–(Additional reporting by Wanga Gwede, Nyasa Times)

Callista Mutharika in court to follow the case

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