November 6, 2003

Chiluba loses application for further trial delay

Embattled former president Frederick Chiluba this week lost an application to further delay his trial on charges of theft and corruption. Earlier this week a Zambian magistrate's court dismissed an application by Chiluba's lawyers to delay the trial on legal technicalities. Chiluba's defence team requested the court to force the government to release sufficient details of the charges, to enable the former president to prepare his defence. "It seems there is no law that can compel the prosecution to release the details to the defence. Therefore, the application has failed," AFP quoted Magistrate Mwiinde Siavapwa as saying.

Chiluba is facing almost 100 counts of theft by a public servant, and is jointly charged with former intelligence boss Xavier Chungu, and several other aides. The charges relate to his conduct while in office and follow the lifting of his presidential immunity from prosecution by Zambia's parliament. But since his arrest in February, the trial has been bogged down by numerous applications by the defence to have the trial moved from a lower court to the High Court. Chiluba argued that he would not get a fair trial in a subordinate court. More recently the trial was postponed after striking judiciary workers paralysed magistrate's courts in the capital, Lusaka.

"The longer it takes to get the trial into full swing, the more time Chiluba's lawyers have to prepare their defence arguments, and possibly find a loophole in the prosecution's case. It is clearly a strategy aimed at frustrating the government, which may in the long run prove quite successful," Fred Mutesa, a political science lecturer at the University of Zambia, told IRIN. Mutesa added that a further delay in the trial could in fact favour Chiluba. "At the moment, the government simply has allegations. They need to convince the Zambian public that they do have hard evidence to convict Chiluba. The longer it takes present this evidence, may give rise to a change in attitudes among Zambians, who may begin to feel sympathy for the ex-president. The government has, however, not had the opportunity to present the evidence because Chiluba's lawyers continue to file applications requesting delays," he said.

However, Alfred Chanda, Zambia's Transparency International representative, disagreed and argued that Zambians still considered Chiluba and some of his aides as "plunderers of the economy". "It must be noted that it is partly because of pressure from civil society that Chiluba's immunity was lifted. The technical legalities of the trial may not affect how ordinary Zambians live their lives from day to day, but there is still interest in Chiluba's fate and the course of justice," Chanda said. (IRIN)

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