Former Zambian president back in the dock

Zambia’s former president Frederick Chiluba was back in the dock on Thursday as a new corruption trial began on charges of stealing $488 000 (about R2,9-million) in state funds.

A nattily-turned-out Chiluba sat for more than four hours, hearing testimony from the first three witnesses called in the trial against Chiluba and two businessmen who are co-accused.

Chiluba, who held the presidency for 10 years after defeating founding leader Kenneth Kaunda in 1991, was initially charged last year with the theft of $41-million but the case against him was dropped in September.

On the first day of the new trial, Chiluba’s lawyers put up a vigorous defence, objecting to the prosecution’s bid to show that the ex-president had purchased houses with stolen funds.

The courtroom in Lusaka was packed with supporters and relatives, including Chiluba’s wife, Regina.

Chiluba is accused of pilfering government money to purchase houses, which he later gave to his two lawyers in 1996 as payment for defending him in a private case when he was head of state.

The High Court earlier this year ruled that the former president abused his powers when he gave his lawyers homes bought with state money and ordered that they be returned to the state. The lawyers are appealing that court ruling.

Magistrate Jones Chinyama adjourned the trial to Friday in order to allow the court to visit some of the properties allegedly bought with stolen money.

Faustin Kabwe and Aaron Chungu, the two businessmen jointly charged with Chiluba in the house purchasing scam, had their corruption counts increased on Thursday from eight to 12, but the six counts of theft faced by Chiluba remain unchanged.

“The three witnesses we had today were called to lay the foundation of the case. We are yet to bring our key witnesses,” one of the prosecutors said after the court adjourned.

Many Zambians have lost interest in the lingering corruption trial saga, marked by frequent adjournments.

However, the prosecution team said they have put in place measures to ensure that the current trial does not drag on.

Legal experts say most of the charges against Chiluba may not succeed due to lack of credible evidence, especially since most of the alleged transactions were conducted by Zambia’s ex-intelligence chief Xavier Chungu, who fled the country in May.—Sapa-AFP

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