Witness Juwawo fails to turn up: Court to hear application on extending trial days in K2.4bn Cashgate

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    Prosecution witness and former economic affairs director in the Ministry of Finance, Francis Juwawo on Thursday failed to appear before High Court in Lilongwe with a copy of an email he was asked to tender in court prompting adjournment and the courtwill this Friday decide on whether to extend trial days for the alleged looting of K2.4 billion involving former Ministry of Finance budget director Paul Mphwiyo and 18 other suspects.

    Gunshot survivor Mphwiyo coming out of court.-Photo by Mphatso Nkhoma, Nyasa Times

    The court will decided on whether to extend trial days from five to 10 days per month in the ongoing case sitting at Civic Offices in City Centre.

    Nyasa Times understands that Juwawo has been given a bed rest due to high blood pressure.

    The former economic affairs director in an earlier court appearance said he would describe Mphwiyo as a man who showed fiscal prudence at some point but not in the period of huge expenditure as the one in question.

    Juwawo, who is working with the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, is at the centre of the bail revocation case as he is one of the three state witnesses that are said to have reported cases of intimidation from Mphwiyo.

    Judge Esmie Chombo who is presiding the trial adjourned the case around 10:45 am on Thursday to 9 am on Friday, to allow both the defense and prosecution to argue on an application to have trial days extended.

    Before the case commenced on Tuesday, Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mary Kachale and defence lawyer Titus Mvalo met the Judge in her chambers.

    When they came into the courtroom and soon after the judge entered, Kachale stood and addressed the judge saying as agreed with the defense, the court would not continue sitting for the reasons communicated to the judge.

    “My Lady, this case was set for continued hearing today, but for the reasons communicated in the Chamber from both the state and the defense we may not be able to do so, but as this court may recall sometime in April,” she said

    Kachale said the issue of five days of hearing a month is not adequate for a case like this one which has 40 witnesses.

    She explained that, “the defense objected to this and it was agreed that the issue should be raised in the July sitting. We are making an application based on our findings on similar cases in other jurisdiction that the days can be extended.”

    Lawyer for one of the 18 accused persons, who represented the defense in a meeting with the Judge in the Chamber, Titus Mvalo, concurred with the DPP on what transpired in the meeting but maintained the defense earlier position that trial day should remain at five per month for the months of September, October and November.

    “My Lady, the view of the defense is against extending the days. If the court will rule for extending, we submit that there has to be five days of trial per month and an additional non-binding five days in that month” Mvalo said, anticipating heated arguments on the issue on Friday.

    He submitted that the accused persons need should not come for hearing on Friday because the nature of the arguments will not be a trial.

    Making her ruling, Judge Esmie Chombo said the accused, were free not to come to the court on Friday`s proceedings which will take place in the Chamber because it will not be a trial.

    She adjourned the court to Friday at 9 am where she will hear substantive application from the state for the extension of the trial days from five to 10, and argument against it from the defense.

    In an interview with reporters after adjournment, DPP, Mary Kachale said the state had made the application to extend the case because it had 40witnesses and having five days a week would take long to have the case concluded.

    “We have researched across other jurisdiction to say how do they treat cases of this nature and we have observed that do that by giving them priority in terms of time so that the time the case can take could be reduced, but as you have heard, he defense is objecting, that’s why I made the application” she said.

    The famous Cash gate saw billions of tax- payer’s money siphoned from government coffers by politicians and some Civil Servants in 2013. Mphwiyo’s shooting outside the gate of his Area 43 residence in Lilongwe on the night of September 13 2013 led to revelations of the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill widely known as Cashgate.

    Former President Joyce Banda ordered a forensic audit undertaken by British firm, RSM (formery Baker Tilly), covering the period between April and September 2013. The audit established that about K24 billion was siphoned from the public coffers through dubious payments, inflated invoices and goods or services never rendered.

    In May 2015, a financial analysis report by audit and business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also established that about K577 billion in public funds could not be reconciled between 2009 and December 31 2014.

    However, the K577 billion figure was later revised downwards to K236 billion by another British forensic auditor.

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