Blantyre — In Malawi, the trials of more than 60 suspects arrested in connection with the theft of more than $250 million in public funds have begun in the capital, Lilongwe. The corruption scandal is collectively known as "Cashgate".
First to appear in the Lilongwe High Court were businesspersons Caroline Savala and Agnes Katengeza and a civil servant, Leonard Kalonga.
Savala and Katengeza have been charged with theft and money laundering for receiving payment from the government through their construction company - for services they did not provide.
Kalonga is accused of defrauding the government by procuring six buses with a total value of about $1.3 million, without official approval.
They all pleaded not guilty to the charges in their initial appearances in court last year.
The High Court has so far adjourned hearing of the cases for various reasons. The presiding judge adjourned the case against Savala to give her new lawyer time to study the case following the arrest of her previous lawyer, former Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara, who is facing his own corruption charges.
Justice Esmie Chombo adjourned the cases involving Kalonga and Katengeza due to what their lawyer Gilbert Khonyongwa calls "other technical hitches."
"There were a number of objections that were raised. One of them is that they were not served with disclosures, the other one was that Kalonga was not committed to the high court. I think the state is overwhelmed with all these cases, so there are those technical hitches," Khonyongwa said.
The court has also discontinued the case against a businessman accused of theft, Gordon Hamdan, because of lack of evidence.
Police uncovered the corruption scandal in September while investigating the shooting of then- budget director Paul Mphwiyo, for what is believed to be his attempt to curb corruption in government.
Besides the arrests, the government has so far frozen 33 bank accounts and seized property suspected to have been acquired using the stolen money.
The High Court has not yet announced the date when it will proceed with the adjourned cases.
However, other cases involving former Justice Minister Kasambara and a suspended official from the ruling People's Party's, Oswald Lutepo, are expected to commence February 5.
Kasambara is accused of attempting to assassinate Mphwiyo, while Lupeto is accused of money laundering.
Meanwhile, Malawi donors are withholding their aid pending the progress of the investigations into the scandal.
However the International Monetary Fund recently resolved to disburse about $20 million it suspended last October.