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Talking blues: Nothing adds up in the K1.7bn case

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Just when light at the end of tunnel of the protracted MwK1.7bn corruption trial of former president Bakili Muluzi was about to shine, boom! A bombshell exploded!

Not one, but two prosecutors were no longer able to finalise the case. The lead prosecutor, in fact, threw in a towel.

Before I proceed, a disclaimer: this is not about the substance, evidence or otherwise, nor presumption of anyone’s guilt or innocence, nor anything to that effect.

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This is about the tomfoolery surrounding the above case, whose logical conclusion is long overdue.

As such, even though the case is still “live”; as long as I don’t try to influence or prejudice the logical outcome, I believe I have every right to voice my utter disgust at sick jokes happening all too often in this case plus the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s (ACB) shameless display of incompetence and lack of leadership in pursuing cases of grand corruption.

Having cleared this, I am ready to rumble.

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You all know that Reyneck Matemba, ACB lead prosecutor for over two years, recused himself from the case on ‘personal grounds… blah! blah! blah!’

To say this was confusing is an understatement. The presiding judge’s only remark was: “The state is in total disarray”.

With due respect, I beg to differ with the learned Judge. The State, I hereby submit, has never been and is not in “disarray”.

Knowing where we have come from, this is a well-choreographed drama, with a series of yet to be seen scenes, where the prosecutors, if anything, are pawns in the game of politics-as-usual.

If truth be told, the 24 hour delay by the ACB Czar to soothe the public that the case will continue, only sharpened foreboding for everyone hoping for a logical conclusion of the case. The fact that the ACB is yet to regroup is just adding a stink to the foul air surrounding this case.

For the record, let me state that I am not against the recusal per se. Recusals are normal in legal proceedings and happen every day.

A prosecutor, defence counsel or indeed a presiding judge can and do recuse themselves for various reasons, and counsel Matemba cannot be an exception. He acted well within his rights.

Having said that, the manner and timing of the recusal, the drama and confusion it caused in the courtroom, plus the knee-jerk assurance from the ACB top dog that came only a day later, are fertile grounds for speculation.

And, just as counsel Matemba cannot be questioned for acting within his rights, should you wish to speculate, you will also be acting entirely within your rights.

All is fair.

The question is: where do you want to begin? I don’t know about you, but I for sure, know where I’ll begin.

Starting point is Lilongwe, the ACB’s registered headquarters. So, here we are, with a lawyer of presumably more than average intelligence, driving all the way to Blantyre High Court of Law, to recuse himself from a very high profile case, without arranging for continuation.

This could not have been for lack of replacements, nay. Stand-ins could have been from within the ACB or from private practice. counsel Kamudoni Nyasulu, you may recall, has handled such cases in the past, and he held his own. I remember a convict calling him names after a job well done. And there are many other lawyers with the same knack.

Does the failure to set a Plan B correspond to normal behaviour and decorum of the brilliant ACB lead prosecutor we have learnt to respect?

Nope.

But let’s not rush into conclusions, lapses do happen.

Moving on, from the delayed assurance by the ACB boss, either the Czar was in the dark about the lead counsel’s intention to recuse himself, or the ACB Czar was hoping we would think he is “equally confused”, or counsel Matemba—when leaving Lilongwe—had not yet succumbed to the overwhelming “personal reasons… blah! blah! blah!”

If the last scenario is the case, the question is: did something happen on the way to heaven? Or, what happened on the way to Blantyre?

Look at it this way: counsel Matemba is not just another lawyer, he is Deputy Director and de facto leader of the ACB’s legal team.

One would therefore expect a professional of his calibre to discuss any decision, personal or otherwise, that has to do with his official duties with his boss, Lucas Kondowe and/or indeed the entire ACB legal team; to forestall confusion.

In the absence of evidence to all the above, If indeed the ACB has the stomach to continue the case as Kondowe wants us to believe, the recusal would have been less dramatic and a replacement would have ready not only to take over, but to hit the ground running.

On the contrary, here we are now – the court has been waiting for over a month –as the ACB, operates more or less like army whose general has been captured by the enemy camp.

Are these things adding up?

While we are at it, look at this convenient coincidence: the state witness, who happens to be Matemba’s predecessor, just chanced not to be in court that day to continue testifying.

I will not dwell on the spontaneous application made by the defence counsel to have the case dismissed which I will discuss another day.

Do you still insist that things are adding up?

Imagine if you can, a plane captain abandoning a long-haul flight while airborne, without arranging for the first officer to take control of the flight.

Would you actually say that this “adds up and happens” all the time?

With mass-suicidal types, yes. But counsel Matemba is a stable and usually responsible man who cannot sink this low, unless…

Therefore, like many other Malawians, I have every right to doubt that the learned counsel is this reckless. And this is why people are justified in concluding that things are not adding up.

Mind you, no-one is saying that Muluzi is guilty or not guilty, no.

This is for the judge to determine after weighing the evidence, and for God above to discern which is which.

But come r a in or sunshine, due process must take place. And the less the drama, the better for the credibility of all the players in this case.

Anything less is a travesty of justice, blatant deceit, and a clear demonstration that the Mutharika Administration cannot fight corruption because corruption is the very bread and butter that it forages on. Full stop.

Check this: with late Issa Njauju’s murderers still roaming freely, what would stop them from reaching and in a mafia-style, “persuading” anyone, to do anything, no matter how irrational it might appear to you and me?

And if such happened to be the lead prosecutor, wouldn’t the ACB be in “disarray”?

And check this final piece of the jigsaw: as the Court waits for ACB to regroup, the ACB Czar goes on leave, leaving the Court in suspense.

Need I say more about this?

However, we should not overly concern ourselves for three reasons.

First, we should remember George Orwell’s statement that in a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

Secondly, that the truth does not change according to one’s ability to stomach it. It remains the truth, to come out on the day that the sun shall rise and cast light on the darkness.

Thirdly, it is said that the test of the pudding is in the eating. If the President Mutharika wants to convince the world that what has thrown spanners in the works of the K1.7 billion case actually “adds up”, then he should dare to give ACB the requisite independence, space and security to pursue this case to the very end so that we can move on, with a precedent firmly set, into the K577 billion Cashgate that happened between 2004 to 2012 under the auspices of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

If the problem, on the other hand, lies with and within the ACB, then as George Chaponda schooled us back when he was sitting in opposition benches in parliament, a fish rots from head down.

A shake-up at the ACB is long overdue for the dwindling confidence in this body which is reflecting very badly on the appointing Authority.

If doing nothing is an option, then no-one should blame yours truly and others for speaking out on behalf of the silent majority, for whom the K1.7 billion could have gone a long way.

To conclude, do you know who said: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened”?

Never mind who it was, the only thing that matters is that he was right and that I have duly proved that nothing is adding up.

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