In Zambia, anti-corruption chief’s battle against fraud draws fierce reply

On Tuesday, a three-man tribunal headed by a former Chief Judge of Zambia arrived the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka to continue their hearing of allegations of abuse of office against the head of the country’s anti-corruption agency.

The Zambia’s Director of Public Prosecution, Mutembo Nchito, is accused among other things, of fraternizing with alleged criminals leading to his withdrawal of suits against them.

Particularly, Mr. Nchito allegedly withdrew a suit against Rajan Mahtani, Board Chairman of the Finance Bank Zambia, and his lawyer John Sangwa knowing he was a party to a debt of $4.2 million owed the bank.

The DPP is also facing accusations of taking over the prosecution of a case before Lameck Mwale, a Senior Resident Magistrate, in which he was also an accused person and immediately entering a ‘nolle prosequi’ in the matter.

Mr. Nchito is further accused of showing disrespect to judicial proceedings by walking out on a judge as well as planting drugs on a political activist he secured a conviction.

On Tuesday, the state’s lawyers begged the tribunal for adjournment.

“I wish to inform the tribunal that the parties have agreed to request this tribunal to postpone the hearing of this matter for a few days,” Likando Kalaluka, the Attorney-General told the tribunal.

“In fact, the parties are proposing the matter be postponed to next week Tuesday.”

The preparedness of the Zambian government to prosecute its anti-corruption chief has been questioned by analysts – most of the charges levelled against Mr. Nchito were for obeying the Attorney-General’s order to file for “nolle prosequi” in matters where the state lacked sufficient evidence for prosecution.

Mr. Nchito himself, who had successfully prosecuted two former presidents as well as some top military officers, a former Finance minister and his Permanent Secretaries, believes he is a victim of institutional witch hunt.

“Except for the first president who was acquitted in very controversial circumstances most, if not all the cases I prosecuted resulted in convictions. As you can imagine this has earned me very powerful enemies,” Mr. Nchito says.

The Nigerian connection

At the time of the death of Zambia’s fifth president, Michael Sata, in October 2014, Mr. Nchito was in the middle of prosecuting Mr. Sata’s predecessor, Rupiah Banda, for abuse of office.

During his administration, Umar Yar’Adua, the late Nigerian president, entered an agreement with the Zambian government to supply 20,000 barrels of crude oil daily.

It is unclear what the Nigerian government got in return, but sources close to the deal said it was part of the country’s contribution to Zambia’s development.

Mr. Banda, who was the Zambian president at the time and his son, Henry, allegedly personalized the proceeds of the deal which they banked in Singapore. The money, commingled with funds laundered through Mauritius, was transferred to Japan for purchases that were then shipped to Zambia.

The case reached an advanced stage after the DPP closed the state’s case, leaving the court to reach a decision on whether Mr. Banda had a case to answer.

The death of Mr. Sata meant that an election would held in 90 days to choose a new president.

The January 2015 presidential election in Zambia threw up Edgar Lungu, who is from the same party as the late president.

Mr. Lungu’s success at the poll was contributed, in no small measure, by the financial contribution of former president Banda, a close ally of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, who had quickly switched his support to the new president’s party.

Before the election, The Post, a leading Zambian newspaper, published an article claiming that Mr. Banda’s support for the elected president was in exchange for the dropping of his court case by the DPP.

To achieve that, Mr. Nchito had to be quietly eased out of his position.

A ‘nolle prosequi’

On Thursday, February 5, Nchima Nchito, the DPP’s elder brother received a call for a meeting from Kelvin Bwalya, a former Law school classmate and one of Mr. Lungu’s campaign managers.

Mr. Bwalya allegedly informed the senior Nchito about the president’s directive that his younger brother resigns as DPP or face an acrimonious exit.

When he got the message, Mr. Nchito refused to step down, insisting that his offence that warranted his removal from a constitutionally protected office of DPP be explained to him.

No reasons were given to him.

Instead, allegations were filed against him at a magistrate court in Lusaka accusing him of offences ranging from forging a judgement in favour of his client, the then Central Bank of Zambia, and planting drugs on a political activist who is close to former President Banda.

The mastermind of the charges was Newton Ngu’ni, a former Deputy Minister of Finance and a close associate of the new president.

Following the death of Mr. Sata, Mr, Ngu’ni had started a court action attempting to remove Guy Scott, then acting president, to pave the way for installation of Mr. Lungu, who was the Defence Minister at the time.

After approaching three magistrate courts in Lusaka, who asked him to provide evidence of such allegations against the DPP, Mr. Ngu’ni withdrew the suits.

Then he headed to Chongwe, a rural town 50 kilometres from the capital where he obtained a warrant for Mr. Nchito’s arrest from a junior magistrate.

Mr. Nchito got wind of the development and quickly assembled a team of lawyers who advised him to obtain a Leave to Commence Judicial Review Proceedings which would also serve as a stay of the warrant arrest from an inferior tribunal.

The order was granted to him after midnight on February 12.

When a team of about 30 armed police officers in six vehicles arrived Mr. Nchito’s home five hours later, they ignored the court order, bundled him into a vehicle, and drove him to Chongwe where he was thrown into a jail.

The DPP’s lawyers rushed back to the judge who had granted the order for stay of arrest and he gave further orders exercising his supervisory authority over the magistrate’s court. He called the case file to his court and quashed the warrant of arrest and declared all the Chongwe proceedings null and void ab initio because the Chongwe court lacked jurisdiction in the matter.

Afterwards, Mr. Nchito wielded his constitutional powers by entering ‘nolle prosequi’ which though not an acquittal grants him temporary reprieve pending when investigations are concluded.

“I used this power because the charges levelled against me have never been investigated by anyone and are politically calculated to provide an immediate basis for my removal from office because of unverified wild allegations such as me being accused of planting drugs on an a political activist,” Mr. Nchito says.

“I have told the complainant and his puppeteers to report their charges to the police if they believe I have committed any crime. This will afford me due process. If I am found wanting I would be removed from office in conformity with the law.”

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