There was drama at the High Court sitting in Blantyre when Judge Vikochi Chima Monday ordered Chief Resident Magistrate (CRM) Jean Kayira to stop hearing the Mapeto David Whitehead and Sons case until the High Court reviews her grounds for denying the defence’ application for an adjournment in the tax evasion case.
Defence lawyer John Gift Mwakhwawa rose to inform the court of the order when the State’s first witness Deborah Hauya was on the stand giving evidence.
After looking at the order, which was served on her and the State right in the courtroom, Kayira said she could not continue hearing from the witness and the case was adjourned indefinitely.
“Looking at the order, I can no longer continue hearing from the witness until the review is done; so, you are temporarily dismissed,” she said.
Kayira had, earlier in the morning, dismissed an application by Mapeto David Whitehead and Sons’ executives, through their lawyers Mwakhwawa and Fostino Maere, to adjourn the case for at least a month to allow the defence to prepare.
The two lawyers said the State served the full disclosures for the case late and that they had a new lead lawyer, Mwakhwawa, who has replaced Jai Banda.
After the Kayira’s ruling, Mwakhwawa told the court that he needed an adjournment to talk to his clients on a possibility of him discharging himself and letting the clients appoint a new lead counsel who would be ready at that time.
Director of Public Prosecutions Steven Kayuni had objected to the defence’s application, saying the right to fair trial which counsel Maere referred to extends not only to the accused but also to the State— which needed to conclude the case within a reasonable timeframe.
On the High Court’s order stopping the proceedings, Kayuni said he would address the court at an appropriate time.
In May Faisal Gaffar Latif, who is Mapeto’s director, handed himself over to Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) offices in Blantyre.
The others— Mohamed Gaffar, who is managing director; Abdul Rashid Bakali, who is financial controller; Yaseen Muhamad, who is procurement manager, and Martin Mpata, general manager, as well as two MRA officials— did the same.
Mapeto is accused of declaring finished products as raw materials to pay less tax, declaring brand new tyres as second-hand and under-declaring the salary of an expatriate to pay less tax.
MRA claims the country may have lost K16 billion due to the fraud in principal since 2010.