26 March 2013

Zambian Ex-President Pleads 'Not Guilty'

Photo: Boston University
Zambian former president Rupiah Banda.

In a magistrate's court in Lusaka, Zambia's ex-president, Rupiah Banda, protested his innocence on Tuesday when answering a charge of abuse of power linked to an oil contract he signed while in office.

Mobbed by his supporters and accompanied by his wife Thandiwe, 76-year-old Rupiah Banda looked calm in the packed courtroom.

The former Zambian president was arrested on Monday for alleged abuse of authority and corruption after his immunity from prosecution was lifted by parliament earlier this month, following a motion brought by Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba.

The director of public prosecutions, Mutembo Nchito, told the court the state was ready to proceed with the trial which formally starts next Tuesday.

Banda ruled Zambia from 2008 until 2011 when he lost power to Michael Sata.

Sata's government says Banda engaged in corrupt activities in the procurement of crude oil from a Nigerian firm, listed in official documents as the Nigerian National Oil Company.

President Michael Sata launched several graft probes against members of the previous administration

Nigeria's state oil outfit is known as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

According to court documents, the procurement did not benefit the Republic of Zambia but Banda and his family.

Accused of stealing $11 million

The state also alleges that he "instructed his son Henry Banda to determine the destination of the funds which were proceeds of this contract... an act which is arbitrary and prejudicial to the interest of the Republic of Zambia."

Banda's lawyers claim the accusations are part of a ploy by Sata to silence opposition. Several former ministers and diplomats from Banda's administration have been arrested under Sata's anti-corruption crusade.

Banda is alleged to have stolen $11 million (8.6 million euros). He has denied all charges. Public reaction to the trial has been mixed. Steven Mwale, a teacher, told DW's Lusaka correspondent Kathy Sikombe he had not been surprised by Banda's arrest. "If somebody is suspected of doing something wrong, a court process is something normal that everybody should be expecting" he said. "Definitely vindictive"

But political analyst Emma Mwiinga is far from sure that the whole legal process is being conducted in good faith.

"It was definitely vindictive because, for a start, the motion that was passed in parliament really had no basis. It did not clearly indicate whether the former president had got the money from the government. It was not clear whether he benefitted directly," she told DW.

Rabson Mulenga is a Banda supporter who is unhappy with the arrest of the former president and says the debate in parliament wasn't conducted correctly.

Frederick Chiluba was the first Zambian president to have his immunity lifted.

"I am disappointed as a citizen with the way things are going in this country, we don't have confidence in the system of judiciary and parliament," he said.

It is the second time in the country's history that a former head of state has had his immunity stripped on allegations of corruption and abuse of office.

President Frederick Chiluba was the first to lose presidential immunity in 2002 when his successor Levy Mwanawasa pushed for his prosecution.

dpa/AP/AFP

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