Businessman Thomson Mpinganjira looked dejected but kept his cool as he walked down the stairs of the Judiciary building that houses the High Court when it sits in Blantyre after a nine-year jail term was handed down to him by Judge Dorothy DeGabriele.
As he embarked onto a waiting armoured police vehicle, best known as Chimbaula, which later ferried him to Chichiri Prison, his family, friends and sympathisers openly wept after failing to stand the state of affairs.
For nine years—at least in respect of what is the case now—the successful businessman will be behind the high walls of Chichiri Prison or any other correctional facility in the country after being found guilty of attempting to bribe five judges who heard the 2019 presidential election case.
Justice DeGabriele on September 10 condemned Mpinganjira for offering an advantage to a public officer, a count which relates to Justice Michael Tembo and the same count in relation to Justice Healey Potani.
Each of the two counts attracted a sentence of nine years, pronounced yesterday— which will run concurrently.
“This is a serious offence committed to pervert the course of justice at the most critical time,” DeGabriele said when sentencing Mpinganjira.
The convict arrived around ten in the morning wearing his trademark blue suit with white stripes, a white shirt and a mini-dots slate blue necktie.
He briefly talked to his lawyers Tamando Chokhotho and Patrice Nkhono before Judge DeGabriele entered the room and settled behind a long bench to read the sentence printed on white sheets of paper.
As the judge read out the sentence, scores of people gathered at the entrance to the court premises hoisting placards bearing messages urging the convicted businessman to be strong.
“Thom popita munditenge (when going to prison, take me along); olimbana ndi Thom aona nyekhwe (who fights Thom will face repercussions),” the sympathisers chanted, their loud tunes making their way into the courtroom.
However, the judge, clad in a scarlet robe with white silk facings and a bench wig, remained unfazed as she gave the background to the case, especially the mitigating and aggravating factors as submitted by the defence and the State.
Among other things, DeGabriele said Mpinganjira claimed he was a first-time offender, was 60 years old and that his health had been compromised after contracting Covid in the course of the trial.
On the health issue, she said: “The burden is on the defence to prove to this court on the balance of probabilities. The convict took oath in support of the facts of the mitigation factors as raised by his counsel but there is no medical report to compel this court to believe that his health has indeed been compromised.”
She also noted that Mpinganjira is an investor who is employing hundreds of people, and that he is a philanthropist and is supporting the oldest football team in the country Mighty Wanderers.
Still, the judge agreed with the State that the offence Mpinganjira was accused of committing was grave and characteristic of a man desperate to use money and power to get whatever he wants.
She pointed out that Mpinganjira’s attempt to force her to recuse herself in the case over alleged impropriety was an indication that he was not remorseful at all as his lawyers wanted the court to believe.
The judge also quoted former Chief justice Sitima, who said in one of his judgements that a man who is desperate to get whatever he wants using power and money disregarding rights of other people is likely to do it again.
“I would like to agree with Justice Sitima and the conduct of Mr Mpinganjira is of someone who is that desperate and he would do it again,” she said.
After the court had delivered the sentence, Nkhono indicated that their client would appeal both the conviction and sentence.
“We are not satisfied with the guilty verdict and the nine years, to us, are excessive. We are appealing but, as for how we are going forward, we will be communicated after we consult the client,” Nkhono said.
He also disclosed that Mpinganjira would consider applying for bail pending appeal.
Solicitor General Reyneck Matemba—who started prosecuting the case when he was Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director-general and took it to conviction—said he was happy that the court had agreed with the State.
“From the day the Hon Chief Justice reported this matter to the ACB, it has been a terrible, torturous and rugged journey. But we are glad that justice has prevailed at the end of the journey.
“Investigating and prosecuting this case required personal commitment, sacrifices and courage on the part of everyone involved—from ACB investigators to the ACB prosecution team, the witnesses to the trial judge,” Matemba said.
“Along the way, we faced numerous attempts on our lives, just as we faced highly sophisticated attempts to derail and delay the case, but we triumphed over all that,” he added.
Mpinganjira was answering six charges under the Corrupt Practices Act relating to attempting to induce Tembo and Potani to exercise their functions corruptly by offering them K100 million.
He was found guilty of two charges of offering an advantage to public officers.