The High Court in Lilongwe has dismissed applications by former minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ralph Kasambara to discharge theft and money laundering charges he and five others are facing because the prosecution was not ready.
Kasambara and fellow private practice lawyer Wapona Kita are co-accused in conspiracy, possession of property suspected to have been stolen amounting to K55 million and money laundering while Pika Manondo and Kasambara are jointly charged with possession of 11 stolen vehicles, K22 million in Manondo’s custody and K5 billion in their custody.
On Monday, Kasambara asked the court to discharge the case, vary the bail conditions and order the return of seized property to him and fellow accused persons as the prosecution concludes the K4.3 billion case against businessperson Osward Lutepo due to start in Zomba on October 6.
The defence lawyers had argued that deferring the case in Lilongwe to the one in Zomba was an infringement on their rights to be presumed innocent and fair trial.
In his ruling, High Court Judge Chifundo Kachale said the accused persons had “failed to establish prejudice” to warrant the requests in their applications and they would remain on bail in the meantime.
He dismissed fears by lawyers for the accused persons that if the two cases are tried separately then the Lilongwe-based suspects were being tried in absentia as “groundless” and “illogical”.
Said the judge: “In my considered opinion, it is legally unsound to equate a mere allegation in court to a breach of the right to be presumed innocent.
“The judicial process is in fact the legally recognised method for establishing the guilt of an accused person. Thus, the State cannot be faulted for bringing the charges it has done against the present suspects before this constitutionally established forum.”
On Kasambara’s argument that the calendar for the Zomba case was speculative because the accused person or judge could fall sick, Kachale said this was a ludicrous allegation because such matters were part of ordinary human existence.Kachale upheld a request by the prosecution that the Lilongwe case be pended until conclusion of the Zomba case because it was satisfied that the prosecution had provided sufficient information for setting a trial date.
The Lilongwe case has since been adjourned to November 13 2014, but Kachale has asked the prosecution to inform the court of developments in Zomba which could result in a change in the date.