14 February 2017

Tanzania: Judge Refuses to Hear Drugs Case Brought Before Her

Photo: Mohamed Mambo/Daily News
Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda displays a file that contains 97 names of alleged drug dealers before he handed it over to Commissioner General of the Drugs Control and Enforcement Authority Rodgers Sianga in the city.

Dar es Salaam — A High Court judge yesterday declined to hear a high-profile drug case.

She queried why the case against Kenyan national Mwanaidi Mfundo, alias Mama Leila, and six other people, including eight Tanzanians, which was being heard by another judge, was assigned to her without a clear explanation.

Lady Justice Zainabu Mruke refused to hear the case that was initially presided over by Justice Isaya Arufani. Lady Justice Mruke said she was not ready to take over the case without being told the reason behind the decision.

"I cannot proceed with this matter. I understand this case was originally being presided over by another judge and I have not been told why it has been brought before me," she said when the case came up for hearing.

She directed that the case be returned to the judge-in-charge for reassignment.

The Citizen later learnt that the case was finally re-assigned to Justice Arufani. Ms Mfundo and her co-accused are charged with trafficking in 2,083.38 grammes of heroin and 762.99 grammes of cocaine with a street value of Sh149 million.

The woman is also wanted in the US for drug charges. She and other suspects were listed in 2010 as wanted for questioning by the US and EU authorities over drug trafficking.

Then US President Barack Obama froze the American assets of seven foreigners, including Ms Mfundo, who has been identified as a foreign narcotics "super-dealer" under the US Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. She is charged along with Tanzanians Sarah Munuo, Aisha Kungwi, Almasi Said, Yahya Ibrahim, Rajan Mzome and John William and Kenyans Anthony Karanja and Ben Macharia.

They were arrested in Mbezi, Dar es Salaam, on June 1, 2011.

Hearing of the case began in October 2015 with a forensic expert, Ms Bertha Mamuya, telling the court the substance brought to her for testing was actually heroin. However, the case stalled on the first day after lawyers engaged in legal tussle after Ms Mamuya asked to be allowed to tender the drugs as an exhibit.

Defence lawyers opposed the move, arguing that the government official was not a competent witness.

They argued that the witness should not be allowed to tender evidence because she was not a custodian of the drugs and that the exhibits did not originate from her office when they were brought to the court.

Following the tussle, Justice Arufani granted a request by defence to seek the guidance of the Court of Appeal.

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