Government is at pains to explain why it is using a witness, who is outside prison when he was supposed to be serving an 18-year sentence following his conviction for armed robbery in 2007.
The State paraded the witness, Charles Chalunda, in the attempted murder case of former budget director in the Ministry of Finance Paul Mphwiyo.
Chalunda, who government once described as a “hostile witness”, was on February 28, 2008, sentenced alongside Joseph Nathaniel, Saidi Imphani and Bushiri Banda Bunaya to serve varying custodial terms by Judge Justice Edward Twea.
However, in April last year, the State paraded Chalunda as its witness who had to be subpoenaed to appear before court and was later declared a hostile witness after he turned against government by changing his earlier testimony which implicated the suspects.
In his April 28, 2015 ruling at High Court in Lilongwe, Judge Justice Michael Mtambo found former Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara, Pika Manondo and Macdonald Kumwembe with a case to answer in the Mphwiyo case.
Mtambo, however, acquitted three other suspects Oswald Lutepo, Dauka Manondo and Robert Kadzuwa of conspiracy to commit murder charges, saying the prosecution team did not present sufficient evidence implicating the accused persons.
The presiding Judge also discarded evidence by Chalunda, who first submitted that he was hired by Kasambara to shoot Mphiwyo, but later changed his ststement, saying he made the confessions under duress.
When asked to comment on why Chalunda was paraded as State witness, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mary Kachale referred the matter to Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokeperson, Apoche Itimu.
Two weeks after a questionnaire was sent to her, Itimu finally responded to the queries this week: “As the matter is currently in court, and we would not wish to prejudice the same, we cannot comment on the witness as to do so would potentially do that.”
In his February 28, 2008 sentence, Judge Twea explained that the four convicts appeared before the Principal Resident Magistrate Blantyre on July 5 2007 on a charge containing two counts of robbery… they all pleaded not guilty to the charges. However, after a full trial, the court found them guilty and convicted them.
He further said the lower court declined to proceed to sentence and committed them to the High Court for sentencing under Section 14(5) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code.
According to court records, Nathaniel, Imphani and Bunaya, while armed with dangerous weapons, held up a Western Union office in Blantyre on April 21, 2007 and robbed it of K1 million.
But Chalunda was involved in the second count where he ganged up with Nathaniel, and Imphani to hold up a Simms Electrics shop in Blantyre where they discharged a gun and robbed the shop of a laptop computer, a cellphone and K600, 000 cash.
“The accused persons were operating a gang to undertake criminal enterprise. They did surveillance on money handling institutions or operations, these offences were premeditated. They possessed and carried dangerous weapons,” said Twea, who took into consideration that they had been in custody since June 2007 when he sentenced them.
“I, therefore, sentence the accused persons to 15 years imprisonment on the first count. I sentence them to 18 years imprisonment on the second count,” ruled Twea.
Malawi Prison Service spokesperson Smart Maliro said Chalunda’s expected day of release was May 24, 2017 since his conviction was backdated to May 25, 2007.
“If you do your calculations, you will also establish that the dates are not adding up but this is because of one third remission of the sentence. If it was 15 years, his one third remissions was five years,” he explained.
However, he explained that Chalunda was released almost seven years earlier on March 22, 2010 following a Supreme Court order.
“I have not been able to see the actual letter so I cannot really know the reason,” said Maliro before adding: “Sometimes this is as a result of appeal or after the assessment and confirmation of a sentence.”
Chalunda, who hails from Chilinda Village, Traditional Authority Nsamala in Balaka, was six month after his discharge sent to prison again in September 2010 this time around on charges that he was found with a prohibited weapon.
“This time around he was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment with hard labour and his sentence expired on May 7, 2012 at Zomba Central Prison,” he said. “It should, therefore, be noted that at no single time did Mr. Chalunda escape from lawful custody.”
The Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula said he needed more time to establish why the Supreme Court ordered Chalunda’s release.
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