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Supreme Court rebuffs Mapeto

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Supreme Court of Appeal Justice, Healey Potani, has rejected an application by Mapeto David Whitehead and Sons (DWS) to order Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to release goods that the tax-collector embargoed pending completion of a case directors of the company are facing.

Mapeto DWS Managing Director Mohammed Faizal Latif Gaffar, Financial Controller Abdul Rashid Bakali, Procurement Manager Yaseen Muhammad and General Manager Martin Mpata are answering multiple charges of tax fraud, money laundering and externalisation of money amounting to K16 billion.

The directors of the company dragged the State to the Supreme Court contending that the seizure of the goods was an infringement on their constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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They further argued that their right to engage in economic activities was being infringed on, despite the Republican Constitution granting people the right to engage in economic activity.

The directors argued that this was tantamount to pre-trial punishment and arbitrary deprivation of property.

But, in a judgement delivered on Friday, Potani stated that the seizure awaiting criminal trial was not in any way an infringement on the right to fair trial.

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He also said the move neither contravened the principle of presumption of innocence nor infringed on the directors’ right to economic activity.

Potani also quashed the idea that withholding the goods amounted to arbitrary deprivation of property.

“The application had been prematurely submitted to the Supreme Court. In the light of the foregoing, this court cannot at this stage entertain the applicants’ application.

“The avenue open to the applicants is either to have the stay they obtained against their trial discharged, if that has not yet been done, to untie the trial court’s hands so that it can deal with the applications or approach the court that granted the stay to consider the application,” the judgement reads.

During the trial, the State informed the court that there was another stay before the High Court which had been obtained and needed to be vacated. The State argued that the applicants were abusing the court process by stalling trial and, at the same time, approaching the court for release of goods seized pending trial.

Mapeto directors are answering criminal charges about alleged offences under the customs and exercise laws, the Value Added Tax Act, the Penal Code and the Financial Crimes Act and the case is before the Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate court.

In connection with the alleged offences, MRA seized and placed under embargo some of the goods belonging to Mapeto pending disposal of the case.

The justice has ordered that the case be heard by the trial court and concluded within 30 days.

Meanwhile, the Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate court has set March 28 2022 as the day of trial continuation.

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