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Murder suspect’s passport puzzle

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RECUSED HERSELF—Mwale

On remand at Maula prison for three years on charges related to the murder of his wife, a British national managed to obtain a new British passport which he used in his fourth application for bail. And the court rejected this application.

A murder suspect, who is a British national answering charges related to the killing of his wife in Lilongwe, ‘renewed’ his passport while in custody, it has emerged.

But Mohamed Shahin Mohamed Iqbar Juma has failed to provide sufficient information regarding how he obtained a new British passport while on remand at Maula prison.

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The details are revealed in a court ruling over his application for bail.

This was a fourth bail application he has made since 2018 when he was arrested allegedly for murdering his wife, Zaheera Abdul Jabbar Akbanie, in December that year.

While the case has been making progress, albeit quietly at the courts in Lilongwe, it came to the fore this week through an apology to Judge Fiona Mwale, who was presiding over the case, published in the newspapers by the father of the murdered woman.

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The man, Jabber Alkbanie, had alleged that Mwale had pocketed a K25 million bribe for the case to go in favour of the accused.

Judge Mwale eventually recused herself from the case in April 2021 in reaction to the accusations, upon which Juma made a fourth application for bail.

In his affidavits, Juma argued that the recusal of Mwale meant that the circumstances of the case had changed.

The State had been opposing his earlier applications on the grounds that he was a flight risk.

It also argued that he had failed to provide information regarding his British passport, which he earlier claimed he had lost.

Now in July this year, the High Court in Lilongwe turned down his re-application after he presented a new British passport which he acquired while he has been in custody.

Questions on how he acquired this new passport formed the backbone of the court’s determination on the application.

In her ruling on directions and bail re-application dated July 21 2021, Judge Dorothy DeGabriele who took over the case from Mwale questioned how Juma obtained the passport.

According to the details, Juma’s new passport was re-issued on February 13 2020 and was collected by his relative on February 11 2021. However, the collection was not signed for as is required.

DeGabriele questioned how he got the passport processed.

“The applicant was in custody during the period and he has not explained to the Court how he applied for the passport and how his biometrics were captured,” read part of DeGabriele’s ruling.

The judge further observed that there was nothing in Juma’s submissions as to when he made a report of passport loss to the British government.

“What is of interest in this court is how the applicant reported his lost passport to the British government, how he applied for the passport while he was in custody answering a serious charge of murder, and how the said new passport was issued as early as March 2020 and was only collected in February 2021, and finally, how the passport is not even signed for by the applicant,” reads the ruling.

On the one hand, Juma said he was born, raised and educated in Malawi while on the other, he told the court that he was “actually British.”

But the court found that he did not clarify his permit status in Malawi.

“This court therefore understands that he is British and he holds a British passport and he owes allegiance to the British government. Consequently, every foreigner who comes to Malawi must have a permit that allows them to live or work or do business in Malawi,” DeGabrielle said.

She consequently denied him bail, arguing that he was a flight risk because he has no connection to Malawi and there was no way of making him accountable to government as he had no permits.

This week, Akbanie ran an apology in the newspapers over his accusation of Judge Mwale, who commenced legal proceedings against him.

On January 12 2019, Akbanie published a voice recording in Malawi and abroad making the statement to the effect that Mwale had received the bribe.

“I hereby retract the said statement and admit that the same was an empty and unfounded allegation which had the unfortunate effect of portraying High Court Judge Justice Fiona Mwale in bad light,” reads the apology.

According to Akbanie, his statement was defamatory and had the effect of lowering the image of the judge in the minds of right-thinking members of the public, including the members of the judiciary and legal profession.

Juma allegedly murdered Alkbanie’s daughter at her residence in Lilongwe.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice Pirirani Masanjala said the matter had been adjourned until the judiciary appoints another judge since DeGabriele is going for further studies.

“We will wait for the appointment of another judge who will take up the matter,” Masanjala said.

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