Tanzania: Mkapa - Why I Stood By Prof Mahalu

Dar es Salaam — Retired President Benjamin Mkapa has defended his decision of defending Tanzania's former ambassador to Italy, Prof Costa Mahalu, saying he wanted justice to prevail.

On May 6, 2012, Mr Mkapa made history by becoming the first retired Head of State in the country to appear in person before court and testify.

He appeared before the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court as a defence witness in a Sh2.5-billion theft case that was facing Prof Mahalu.

In the case, Prof Mahalu was charged alongside with former counsellor Grace Martin with stealing money by forging documents for the purchase of the embassy building in Rome, by using two separate contracts in the deal.

However, in his testimony, Mr Mkapa, who at the time of purchasing the building was the serving president, told the court that he was aware of the fact that the building was purchased at more than euros 3 million and approved the whole process and procedures pertaining to the purchase of the building located on Vialle Cortina d'Ampezzo 185, in Rome.

Mr Mkapa writes in his memoir--My Life, My Purpose: Tanzanian President Remembers-- that although he was aware that many politicians did not like the idea of him to appear in court, he went ahead to defend someone who was being wrongly accused of diverting public funds.

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"The issue that someone was being wrongly accused of diverting the funds was more important to me than the precedent of a former Head of State appearing in court," he writes .

Mr Mkapa writes before the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) had decided to take Prof Mahalu to court, he (Mr Mkapa) had tried to privately explain to the anti-corruption body that charging the ambassador with theft was unwarranted.

"Their response was that I should publicly admit that this is what happened and attest that he had my permission to proceed in this manner. I was shocked when they took Mahalu to court. It was inconceivable that this transaction could have been done without my knowledge; ministers and civil servants always referred to me if there was any difficulty," writes Mr Mkapa.

In his May 6, 2012 testimony in court, the former president, who was led by advocate Alex Mgongolwa, said the former ambassador informed him that the owner of the building wanted the money to be paid in two separate accounts.

"You know, we had a big problem that moved us to agree to the conditions in order to make sure that we get the building. We approved the payments after seeing its importance," said Mr Mkapa.

He told the court that he did not know why the owner of the building wanted the payment to be made in two separate accounts.

In his testimony, Mr Mkapa praised Prof Mahalu as a person, who served the nation with integrity.

He writes in his autobiography that although Prof Mahalu was finally acquitted, he avoided the allure of seeking compensation from the government.

"He said, 'No, I just wanted my name to be cleared. It has been cleared and that's it'. Once more, Prof Mahalu was decent, saying, 'Let bygones be bygones'. This shows professionalism," writes the former President.

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