Rupiah Banda Trial: Witness Says Mwanawasa Initiated Oil Deal

Lusaka-high-court-big-pixOn the fourth day of hearings in the trial of former President of Zambia Rupiah Banda, a witness testified before Lusaka Chief Resident Magistrate Joshua Banda that according to discussions in various staff meetings at the Zambia High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria, the initial steps for Zambia to obtain oil from Nigeria had already been done under late president Levy Mwanawasa.

The testimony is seen as yet another setback for prosecutors, who earlier this week faced difficulties introducing a letter which was recognized by one witness as a forgery.

Margaret Kaemba, 62, a business woman of plot F50A/79 Makeni, Lusaka, and former First Secretary at the Zambia High Commission in Nigeria testified that it was generally discussed if it was possible to get discounted oil from Nigeria, except that the type of crude from there would not be refined in Zambia.

“Sometime in March 2010 the reception called me that there were two people who wanted to see the person who deals with economy and trade. They directed them to my office,” Ms Kaemba said in response to questions from the Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito, commenting that the two people introduced themselves as brothers.

“One was Michael Osigwe and the other one I can’t remember his name but he was also Osigwe,” she said. According to her they told her the Osigwe family has been involved in the Nigerian oil industry since 1928. “Based on that they said they had been discussing with President Rupiah Banda about the possibility to lobby on behalf of Zambia to buy oil direct from the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They said that over a period they did the lobbying and were happy to report that Zambia was among the countries to buy oil from Nigeria,” she told the court.

But Ms. Kaemba also testified that one of the reasons the two Osigwe brothers had gone to her office was because President Rupiah Banda was not receiving their calls and were finding it difficult to get in touch with him. She added, “They wanted to pass the message that the government to government oil contract had been approved. But I told them that we didn’t have any information at the mission on any oil deal and that it would be difficult for the mission to help.”

In cross examination by Former President Banda’s defence lawyers, Ms Kaemba admitted that she first saw the two Osigwe brothers on March 24, 2010, her birthday, and that after that meeting she decided to google to get more information and found that the Osigwes were truly in the oil business.

Asked by defence lawyer Irene Kunda why she entertained the Osigwe brothers for what appeared to be a lengthy period, Ms. Kaemba said that in her judgment, they “did not look like thieves,” at which point the entire courtroom burst into laughter.

“I decided to get the help of the High Commissioner so that together we could make an opinion,” she said. At this point she was also taken to task by the defence for changing an earlier testimony. She had earlier told the court that as a sign of politeness she asked the Osigwe brothers to give her their business cards as she walked them out after the High Commissioner Mr. Alexis Luhila had been hostile to them. But at this point she was telling the court that she got the cards from the Osigwes in the high commissioner’s office.

Earlier former Chief of Staff at State House Austin Sichinga, told the court in cross examination by the defence that Rupiah Banda declined an invitation from the Osigwe brothers to go and give a talk in Nigeria. This was on the basis that he could not visit a private citizen of another country without clearance from the particular president, prime minister or majesty as that was the standard procedure. As far as the witness was concerned Mr. Banda kept himself at arms length from the Osigwe brothers.

Sichinga also told the court how he did not see anything wrong with the former president meeting the Osigwe brothers in the company of another person who looked like a Zambian in New York when they went to attend the United Nations general assembly in September 2009. This was in response to a question by Eric Silwamba, SC.

The witness also testified that ID 2 and ID 3 the letters allegedly signed by Mr. Banda were written before 2009 and long before meeting the Osigwe brothers. Referring to ID 3 Sichinga said he would not have passed it as it had several mistakes. ID 2 is the letter alleging that Mr. Banda requested his Nigerian counterpart to help Zambia with crude oil while ID 3 is the follow up letter. The witness admitted that he has never seen the original of ID 3 and that investigators never showed him.

Responding to Prof. Patrick Mvunga, SC Sichinga told the court that ID 3 is very difficult to describe. He also told the court that if the defence accept ID 2 it would be right to say that Mr. Banda was writing in his official capacity as President of Zambia.

President Banda is accused of abuse of office relating to an alleged oil deal with Nigeria.  His supporters, however, maintain that the prosecution is politically motivated without any basis in fact.  Former President Banda’s immunity was removed earlier this year in a controversial vote before the national assembly, which is now under Judicial Review.

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