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Ex-Zambia leader trial delayed

03 April 2013, 14:51

Lusaka - A Zambian court on Wednesday delayed the highly-charged corruption trial of ex-president Rupiah Banda, a case he says is politically motivated.

Banda, who ruled Zambia from 2008 to 2011, last week pleaded not guilty to stealing a Nigerian crude oil contract to benefit himself and his family while in office.

The Lusaka magistrate's court delayed the case to Friday after a challenge from Banda's lawyers, who claimed the specific charge was off the statute books during Banda's tenure.

"Looking at the submission of both parties, I suggest we reconvene on Friday," magistrate Joshua Banda told the court.

Banda sat in the dock, dressed in a grey suit and red shirt, and listened attentively as his lawyers argued the matter in the packed court room.

He was accompanied to court by his wife Thandiwe and his eldest son Andrew who is also facing corruption charges in another court.

The former head of state was arrested after lawmakers last month lifted his immunity from prosecution, which he is fighting in a separate court battle.

He faces a maximum of five years in prison if found guilty.

The case has prompted outcry in Zambia, with Banda supporters accusing the government of President Michael Sata of a political witch hunt.

The charge that Banda faces, of abusing his authority, was repealed while he was in office, but quickly reinstated by the new government.

Anti-corruption drive

"With the repeal and replacement in 2012 we are left to wonder - what is the motivation of the charge?" said Sakwiba Sikota, one of Banda's lawyers.

But chief prosecutor Mutembo Nchito told the court the offence was "prosecutable".

Since Sata came to power in 2011 he has rolled out an anti-corruption drive that some have seen as a move to silence dissenting views.

Sata's vehemently rejects persecuting leaders in the previous government.

"We have the courts of law and if somebody is clean he will be cleared by the courts. We are a government that believes in the rule of law," government spokesman Kennedy Sakeni has said.

A trial will pit the defence's argument that Banda is a victim of a political ploy, against the state's claims that he was involved in corrupt activities.

The case stems from the procurement of a crude oil contract on an unknown date during Banda's three years in power.

According to court papers, Banda is accused of procuring the inter-government contract for the country but which was "meant to benefit himself and his family".

Frederick Chiluba

The state claims Banda roped in his son Henry, who left Zambia after his father lost power and is wanted by the authorities.

Banda is charged with instructing his son to "determine the destination of the funds which were proceeds" of the contract.

The prosecutors argue this resulted in Zambia having not received "any benefit" from the deal.

It is not first time a former Zambian leader is being put through the courts.

The late Frederick Chiluba, who ruled from 1991 to 2001, also had his immunity removed and faced graft related court actions at home and in Britain.

He was eventually acquitted by a Zambian court and a local judge refused to recognise a guilty verdict handed down in London.

He died in 2011.



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