Zambia’s controversial trial against former President Rupiah Banda began today with a hiccup from the prosecution, who sought to introduce a photocopied letter as evidence, which was vigorously disputed by the defence, forcing an adjournment to address basic evidentiary matters.
Chief Resident Magistrate Joshua Banda opened the trial after dismissing an application by the defence team seeking clarification on constitutional issues regarding the abuse of office charge, which was not a legal statute during his presidency. Former President Banda is accused of allegedly procuring oil from Nigeria. In a separate decision, two weeks ago the Lusaka High Court granted the former head of state a judicial review of the removal of his immunity, which fell short of the 2/3rds majority vote of total parliamentary seats.
Mutembo Nchito, Zambia’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) called his first witness, Derrick Kasonka. a Zambia Police Service detective inspector of Lusaka Divisional Headquarters to testify against Mr. Banda. According to Mr. Kasonka, he was present during a search of the home of the former Minister of Energy Kenneth Konga, during which a letter was found allegedly signed by President Banda to Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua.
With the former president listening attentively, Mr. Kasonka told the packed court, “It had a date stamp at the far right bottom dated 27th November, 2008 and signed by the former president Rupiah Bwezani Banda.”
However the fact that the prosecutors did not have an original letter to present as evidence but rather a photocopy, and further “assumed” that the letter “may have been sent” to Nigeria, but in fact may have been a draft.
The defence team comprising Prof. Patrick Mvunga, Sakwiba Sikota, Eric Silwamba, Irene Kunda, Steven Lungu and Lubinda Linyama objected to the letter being admitted as part of evidence on grounds that it is not original and that the witness failed to satisfy the court that he conducted a diligent search.
Magistrate Banda has since adjourned the matter to Tuesday April 23, 2013 for ruling on whether or not the copy of the letter should be admitted as evidence.