Zambia’s Cases Against Banda Stalling Out

Two cases brought by Zambia’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) against former President Rupiah Banda appear to be coming up empty, said a source close to the prosecution team.

A number of recent moves by the prosecution, including revisions of defendants, repeated adjournments, and scrambling for witnesses, have cast an impression of disorganisation to the state’s case, while critics allege that the prosecution is politically motivated.

“Following the latest hearings, it appears the DPP is running out of options and is still very far away from building a case that could achieve a conviction,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “So far investigations have failed to deliver the evidence that the DPP was hoping for, while the testimonies of several key witnesses have not supported the charges.”

One of the state’s star witnesses, Akpan Ekpene, a Nigerian executive, testified before the court that no oil transaction was ever completed between Zambia and Nigeria, while the testimony of the state’s other key witness, former government minister Richard Kachingwe, has been vigorously disputed by defence lawyers and media.

As the cases have continued forward, the prosecution has undertaken new tactics. On the gratification case, the DPP Mutembo Nchito has expanded the defendants to directly include representatives of a Chinese construction company which donated trucks to the former ruling party. There are also accusations that Nchito is attempting to pressure Banda’s lawyers: On December 9th, the former president’s lawyer, Dr. Patrick Mvunga, was interrogated by police concerning a stolen vehicle, an allegation that he denies. Defence lawyer Sakwiba Sikota has also been pressured with misconduct claims by lawyers representing Rajan Mahtani, a close ally and financier of President Michael Sata.

By pressuring the legal team and creating new co-defendants, the source says, Nchito is hoping to turn up new witnesses.

“It seems quite unlikely that the prosecution will be able to secure a conviction against Banda, so instead their goal is to prolong the case as long as possible, or invent new charges if the current cases have to be dropped,” said the source.

Former President Banda, who served as Zambia’s head of state from 2008-2011, was charged with abuse of authority relating to an alleged oil purchase from Nigeria, and separately, gratification related to a motor vehicles case, and in a separate case.

During the latest court hearings on the oil case, which took place on December 9th, Nchito declined to present new witnesses and requested another adjournment, delaying the case until the week of February 10, 2014, whereupon the prosecution promised the court he would rest his case.

On March 15, 2013, the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party narrowly passed a vote to remove the former President’s immunity. At the time, Minister of Justice Wynter Kabimba declared, “the investigations have been concluded and the team is ready to prosecute Banda,” however, 11 months later, both of the cases have dragged on, prompting some commentary in international circles concerning Zambia’s commitment to rule of law.

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