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Zambia’s Chiluba waits on court ruling

Zambia’s former president, Frederick Chiluba, was on Monday expected to hear the verdict in a corruption trial accusing him of embezzling $500 000 in public funds.

The 66-year-old is accused of stealing the money during his 10-year rule over the copper-rich Southern African country.

He faces a jail term of up to five years, in what became one of Africa’s highest-profile corruption cases after he first went on trial in December 2003.

The proceedings were dropped nearly a year later but Chiluba was rearrested and returned to the dock in November 2004, while facing a separate civil claim lodged in a British court by the Zambian government.

Chiluba has maintained that the Lusaka charges were political.

The case was brought by his hand-picked successor, the late president Levy Mwanawasa, who launched a sweeping anti-corruption drive that has already jailed a raft of top political and military officials.

On Friday the embattled Chiluba arrived in court to cheering supporters but the verdict was postponed to Monday.

The former head of the copper-rich state, whose population is among the world’s poorest, suffers from an acute cardiac complication and kidney failure.

A ruling was deferred last month after Chiluba, who faces the graft charges alongside two other businessmen, failed to file written submissions in time to the court for consideration in the judgment.

He is also fighting to get the Zambian Supreme Court not to recognise his 2007 graft conviction by a British court.

In the London case Chiluba and others were found guilty of defrauding the Zambian government and ruled that he should be denied access to his pension at Barclays Bank.

The conviction could see his local assets seized.

Zambia last year began efforts to register the judgement locally to begin recovering the money. Chiluba has argued that the British court ruling should not apply in Zambia.

During the London case, the judge pointed to Chiluba’s extravagant tastes and said Zambians should know that Chiluba’s flashy suits were paid with money stolen from them by the former president.

Chiluba — who officially earned about $100 000 during his time in power — had hundreds of custom-made shirts bearing his monogram and ”signature” shoes with raised heels.

Chiluba’s wife, Regina, was sentenced earlier this year to three-and-a-half years for receiving stolen property. She is appealing the sentence. — Sapa-AFP

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