Retired business mogul Thomson Mpinganjira is back in the cooler at Chichiri Prison after High Court Judge Dorothy DeGabrielle revoked his bail in his judge bribery case.
DeGabrielle revoked bail after Mpinganjira approached the court that he wanted to enter into a plea bargaining arrangement with the state.
A visibly not amused DeGabrielle granted the request for plea bargaining but revoked the bail, a development which seemed to have surprised everyone in the court.
“The suspect would have made the request before this day but we are here ready to start trial and then we are faced with this request. I am granting the request for plea bargaining but on a condition that bail is revoked and he is remanded at Chichiri Prison. That is the order of the court,” she said.
There was deafening silence in the courtroom immediately after the pronouncement of the ruling as Judge DeGabrielle left the chamber without looking back.
Initially, Mpinganjira, who is being accused of attempting to bribe judges who were presiding over the elections case to rule in favour of then president Peter Mutharika had pleaded not guilty to the allegations.
But addressing the court yesterday through lawyer Patrice Nkhono, Mpinganjira said after reflecting on the charges he has decided to rethink the plea of not guilty.
“It is in the interest of justice that we enter a plea bargaining arrangement. It is something allowed in the laws of Malawi and will help to save time and resources,” Nkhono said.
Anti-Corruption Bureau Director General Reyneck Matemba did not object to the request to enter into the plea bargaining arrangement with Mpinganjira but asked that the case continues as the arrangement is being looked into.
“The judge said plea bargaining is allowed. She is right. Any good defence lawyer will look at the evidence in the disclosures and advise their client to reconsider their plea. The ball is back in their court. We will just be waiting for them to give us what they are proposing in the plea bargaining arrangement,” Matemba said.
Mpinganjira has been fighting commencement of the case in the High Court of Malawi saying he wanted the matter to be tried in the Magistrate’s Court.
He applied in the Supreme Court of Malawi for a judicial review against committal of his case to the High Court and asked the Supreme Court to stay the case until the judicial review is disposed.
But writing on his Facebook page, law expert Bright Theu said plea bargaining has yet to be permitted in Malawi.
“The law gives a discretionary power to the Chief Justice to permit plea bargaining. Chief Justice, the only competent authority to permit plea bargaining, has not made any rules which permit it. If we already do plea bargains, perhaps they are criminal enterprises, in that they are deployed as devices to evade if not pervert the full force of criminal justice,” Theu said.
A plea bargain, also known as a plea deal, is any agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor.
This may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to a less serious charge, or to one of the several charges, while other charges will be dismissed or it may mean the defendant pleading gulity to the original charge in return for a lenient sentence.