Lusaka - A Zambian court on Wednesday delayed the
highly-charged corruption trial of ex-president Rupiah Banda, a case he says is
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
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
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
The charge that Banda faces, of abusing his authority, was
repealed while he was in office, but quickly reinstated by the new government.
"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
Sata's vehemently rejects persecuting leaders in the
"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
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".
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
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.