Zambia’s Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito has found himself in hot water lately over the handling of several politically sensitive cases, including the two cases against former President Rupiah Banda.
Now, according to exclusive correspondence obtained by Zambia Reports (click image to download), Nchito has lashed out in an emotional, hysterical attack against the former president’s legal team, steadfastly refusing to stand down from taking over the contempt of court proceedings against his close associate Fred M’membe.
According to a letter to the DPP dated 8 May 2014 signed by former President Banda’s lawyer Makebi Zulu, the legal team raises a series of concerns that Nchito would be unable to remain an unbiased prosecutor in the matter, especially in that he himself would likely be a witness, that his law firm represents the defendant, and that he and M’membe are a known business associates. Zulu writes, “Your involvement in thus mala fides and amounts to an abuse of constitutional power. Your exercise of that power is unconstitutional as it, inter alia, infringes on the complainant’s right to a fair trial. Without doubt, your perceived bias is inescapable and is likely to render the proceedings a sham, mistrial, and consequently a travesty of justice.”
The corresponding response letter from Nchito, signed by the deputy chief state advocate, did not offer a counter-argument with regard to the constitutional issues or promise neutrality – instead it openly attacked Zulu in a very emotional and rude tone.
“This office is taken aback by the sentiments expressed in your letter,” Nchito wrote. “You as an advocate in this action, have clearly exhibited high levels of incompetence and lack of understanding of basic principles of law.”
Nchito argued that any concerns about him prosecuting his business partner’s case are “premature,” and that the complaints about his conduct were “unpalatable” and “totally unacceptable.”
The letter from the DPP declared: “In view of your unprofessional conduct, your request to the DPP to withdraw from this matter to allow the Complianant herein to private prosecute this matter is rejected.”
Former President Banda’s legal team respond to this letter, expressing their disappointment that instead of addressing the legitimate concerns they have raised, instead Nchito only attacked the professional ethics of Mabeki Zulu – which they believe only confirms apprehensions about the DPP’s ability to remain unbiased.
The trouble with Nchito’s role in the controversial Banda case and the alleged bias dates back to an appearance the DPP made before a select parliamentary committee in December 2011, during which he swore that he would recuse himself from prosecuting any matters concerning President Banda or Finance Bank Chairman Rajan Mahtani. When it became apparent that Nchito had lied under oath to parliament, Lucky Mulusa took him to task, demanding his resignation.
The matter became further complicated when the DPP decided to take over M’membe’s contempt case. Not only was Nchito’s law firm serving as defence counsel for M’membe, but also the two men have been accused of using state powers to avoid the repayment of K14 billion loan to the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ) relating to the bankruptcy of Zambian Airways. Many analysts have observed that the issue of the unpaid DBZ debt has wreaked havoc on the legal system.