Chief Justice mum on coup plot

Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo has refused to comment on allegations he and other judges were waiting to swear in Peter Mutharika as president after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika on April 5 2012.

That move would have effectively stopped the then vice-president Joyce Banda from assuming the office as per Constitution, and amount to a coup and treason.

In an exclusive interview in Malawi’s commercial city, Blantyre, on Friday, Munlo said, as a judge, he knows there is a proper mechanism or forum under the Constitution where allegations of this nature can be taken to.

Said the Chief Justice: “I also know my rights.” He did not elaborate. But he insisted that out of the great respect he has for the President, he will not comment on the matters (and in the media) at this point.

Banda last week told The Guardian newspaper of UK that she was officially informed about an attempted coup on the presidency by some members of the Judiciary, including the Chief Justice, and the Cabinet following her predecessor’s death.

Said Banda in The Guardian interview: “By that time [on Friday night], the Chief Justice and some judges were sitting at Peter Mutharika’s house waiting for the court order in order to swear him in.”

When The Nation checked The Guardian story with the President on Tuesday this week, Banda said: “I told the [UK] newspaper as it was relayed to me.” She said a minister (name withheld) came to brief her officially about the alleged coup.

In an interview with Capital Radio Straight Talk programme on Thursday evening, first vice-president of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Goodall Gondwe—who chaired an impromptu meeting on the succession issue which sought clarification on whether a person who does not belong to a ruling party can succeed the President—said Munlo did not attend the meeting and that he (Gondwe) would not want to discuss the Chief Justice issues.

‘We will launch investigations’

Meanwhile, Malawi Law Society (MLS) on Thursday resolved to institute investigations on circumstances that surrounded Banda’s transition following the death of Mutharika.

MLS secretary Bright Theu said the society resolved to institute investigations on the circumstances that surrounded the transition to clear allegations and
rumour-mongering.

“You will agree with me that we have many allegations [as to] who did what. As regards the Chief Justice, we have one person who said he [CJ] refused to do that, he was somewhere at somebody’s house etc, but the local media said the Chief Justice would not allow anybody other than the vice president to take over. So, for that reason, because of all that confusion, we have come up with courses of action to the authorities that are responsible for investigations to investigate all the matters surrounding the transition to get the truth,” said Theu.

Theu said MLS would communicate to Malawians the course of action on the investigations next week.

He said the meeting on Thursday did not specifically target the Chief Justice, but looked at the transition of Banda holistically because there are several other allegations.

“We did not have specific discussion about the Chief Justice or the allegations against him. Our focus is on what the whole nation is expecting to know, [thus] what exactly happened that time. Our approach was holistic. We did not target any specific officer or individual, but looked at how the whole transition was managed by those who were in Cabinet at that time,” said Theu.

Asked to comment on Banda’s allegations against the Chief Justice, Theu said: “It is a very grave allegation. I suppose the President was only speaking from what she was told as well. And that is the more reason the whole nation wants the truth.

“What the President alleged, was grave against the office of the Chief Justice and as Malawi Law Society, we do not take it lightly and it might have certain repercussions on the Chief Justice and that is why it is very sensitive issue. We want to handle it very carefully.”

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