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Zambia's Banda stripped of immunity

16 March 2013, 08:32

Lusaka - Zambia's parliament voted on Friday to strip ex-leader Rupiah Banda of his presidential immunity, a move critics say is politically motivated.

The former president is accused of corruption, money laundering and fraud, which his lawyers say are part of a political ploy by his successor, President Michael Sata, to purge any and all opposition.

Presenting the allegations in parliament, Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba said that Banda had engaged in corrupt activities in the procurement of crude oil from a Nigerian firm.

He is also accused of funnelling taxpayer cash into his election campaigns.

"Mr Banda's personal handling of such large amounts of money and his activities constitutes acts of money laundering," Kabimba said.

"The investigations have been concluded and the team is ready to prosecute Banda."

Backed by Sata's Patriotic Front, which holds more than a third of the seats in the 158-member parliament, the vote passed 80 to three thanks to an opposition boycott.

The ex-leader, who bowed out of power after losing elections to Sata in 2011, insists he has not been given a chance to defend himself and had sought a court injunction to stop the vote.

Banda's peaceful handover was hailed at the time as an example of a smooth transfer of power in Africa's largest copper producer.

But Sata's government has since arrested a number of opponents, raising fears the country is sliding toward authoritarianism.

Opposition leaders and former ministers have been arrested in recent months for an array of offences allegedly committed while they were in office.

On Wednesday Sata personally warned foreign diplomats against engaging with the opposition on governance issues.

"If you want to ask about governance issues come to my office or go to the ministry of foreign affairs," Sata told 14 foreign envoys, including the ambassadors of Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Kenya, Israel, New Zealand and South Korea.

Watchdog Transparency International has supported calls for lifting Banda's immunity so he can answer the charges against him.

But Banda's lawyer Sakwiba Sikota called the motion a "total mockery of justice" on the eve of the vote, saying his client had not been charged or given a chance to defend himself.

Late Zambian leader Fredrick Chiluba, who ruled from 1991 to 2001, also had his immunity removed after his hand-picked successor Levy Mwanawasa presented parliament with numerous charges against him.

Chiluba was eventually acquitted by a Zambian court.

A Zambian judge refused to recognise a ruling by a London court that found him and his associates guilty of syphoning $46m from state coffers.



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