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Tussle over Hellen Buluma’s WhatsApp evidence

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MADE THE OBJECTION—Soko

The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and defence lawyers in a fuel importation deal case were Friday at loggerheads over technicalities surrounding the admission of a WhatsApp conversation as evidence to be considered before the court.

Deputy Chief Executive Officer for National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Hellen Buluma tendered as evidence screenshots of a WhatsApp Conversation she had with former Minister of Energy Newton Kambala from September to November 2020.

Buluma, with assistance from ACB, brought to the court the conversations which were printed out, a development to which the defence objected.

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One of the defence lawyers, Wapona Kita, described the documents as secondary evidence which was brought before the court, contrary to documentary evidence rules.

Chief Resident Magistrate Patrick Chirwa wondered why the State had failed to explain on the matter or rather use the primary evidence, the gadget from which the screenshots were extracted.

ACB proceeded in producing a phone gadget to be used as primary evidence but the defence also objected to the admission of the gadget, arguing the State continued to bulldoze evidence.

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Another defence lawyer Khumbo Soko said as a matter of procedure, the State should have made a disclosure of the gadget prior to the trial for all parties to appreciate the contents.

“The manner in which the State is proceeding is not legal. They cannot say because the document has been rejected, then here is the gadget,” he said.

Kita also chipped in, saying there was need for the defence to see the extent of the evidence in the gadget.

“We would want to see everything that transpired throughout the conversation,” he said.

Another defence lawyer Bright Theu proposed to the court that the gadget be surrendered to the court for the defence to be able to scrutinise the whole thread of the conversation, a request to which the ACB objected.

But Chief Resident Magistrate Chirwa has since given five days for the defence to scrutinise the gadget before the court reconvenes at a later date.

Speaking outside the court, ACB Director General Martha Chizuma said the evidence to be inspected was already submitted.

“We have agreed and we will make available the gadget for inspection but what is in that phone we already disclosed to them. There is no room for us to tamper with anything,” she said.

Kambala, Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Enock Chihana and former Presidential Advisor on Strategy Chris Chaima Banda are being accused of interfering in fuel importation deal at Nocma.

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