The Anti–Corruption Bureau (ACB) has written presiding magistrate Patrick Chirwa to clarify insinuations by the defence team in the fuel importion case that key witness Hellen Buluma is faking illness to avoid trial.
Buluma, who is National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) deputy chief executive officer, is the key witness in the case in which former minister of Energy Newton Kambala and two others are accused of attempting to influence a public officer in the procurement of fuel contrary to the Corrupt Practices Act.
In a letter dated July 13 2022 to Chirwa, who is now judge of the High Court of Malawi, titled ‘Re: Unprocedural Adjournment of CRM Criminal Case No 934 of 2021 Republic (ACB) vs. Newton Kambala and Two Others,’ the ACB director general Martha Chizuma said Buluma had informed the bureau that she had scheduled medical consultations and follow-up engagements which required the deputy CEO to slow down on stress-related work for at least three months.
The bureau sought adjournments twice for hearings set between June 27 to 29 2022 and July 11 to 15 2022.
Earlier, defence lawyer George Mtchuka Mwale, in his letter to Chirwa dated July 7 2022, said Buluma was displaying traits of a malingering witness, arguing that she sought for an adjournment on the pretext she was ill but attended a government function.
However, Chizuma argued that the insinuations by the defence were unfair and may tarnish the image of the witness, who is yet to be cross-examined.
She said: “My lord, we find it unfair insinuations by defence counsel that PW2 is malingering on the matter because obviously she is not.
“We are concerned that these allegations may tarnish her credibility before you my lord ahead of her cross-examination. As she has clearly stated in her letter, she remains committed to appear before you as she has been in the past.”
The ACB boss further clarified that the bureau sought the adjournments before the court dates to avoid inconveniencing the presiding magistrate, who is now operating from Zomba Registry of the High Court of Malawi.
Chizuma pointed out that the defense also sought adjournments twice when the court had set dates for continued hearing between May 26 to 31 2022 and June 1 to 2 2022, adding that Buluma was available for cross-examination at the time.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mwale said the arrangement for the adjournments was done between the ACB and the court, saying the defence did not give its input.
He also said the court is yet to communicate on new dates for the hearing of the case.