Former Malawi president’s graft trial gets the green light

Malawi’s first elected president, Bakili Muluzi, will be tried for corruption after the supreme court of appeal dismissed his latest effort to have the case dismissed on technical grounds. 

Muluzi succeeded Hastings Banda and became Malawi’s first democratically elected president from 1994 to 2014. He was first charged in court in 2009, but multiple postponements and disagreements over technicalities have delayed the case.

The former president, a populist and much-loved figure, is accused of diverting $11-million of donor funding into his personal account. The money, a grant from the Libyan government, was intended to be used to build a hospital in Blantyre, the country’s commercial capital.

Muluzi has previously denied the charges and has said they were linked to his dispute with Bingu wa Mutharika, who became president in 2004 after he stood down, the BBC has reported.

Since this legal case began, Malawi has been ruled by four different presidents. A ministry of justice official told local media that the legal action has already cost the state more than $10-million.

Malawi’s attorney general, Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda, said the state was ready to prosecute the case. “Representing the interests of Malawians, we are happy with this ruling because this will set a precedent to other corruption cases involving unexplained wealth accumulated by public officers.”

However, not everyone thinks legal action is the best way forward. Two former directors general of Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau have publicly said the case requires a political solution, while the country’s Public Affairs Committee last year asked the government to discontinue the case.

Muluzi’s lawyer, Jai Banda, said they would wait on the state’s next move. 

“The ball is in their court now so we will just wait for the way forward. We will take it up on how the state proceeds, but we are ready for trial,” Banda said. “One does wonder whether prosecuting a case for 15 years … is it worth it?” 

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

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Jack McBrams
Jack Mcbrams

Jack McBrams is a correspondent with AFP.

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