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Former Zambian President Returns to Court in Corruption Case

Former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba returns to court next week on six corruption charges.

Mr. Chiluba returns to court after the prosecution was last year forced to abandon dozens of other charges because of procedural issues. Now he faces just six charges of theft of a total of nearly $500,000 in state funds, during his tenure as president. In the original case, the former president was accused of stealing roughly $30 million.

The president of the Zambian chapter of Transparency International told VOA the success of this case will depend on whether the prosecution has prepared itself better than it did last year. Professor Alfred Chanda, also of the University of Zambia, said the investigations by the Zambia's auditor general and his own organization revealed what he called massive corruption in Mr. Chiluba's government.

Professor Chanda says such high levels of corruption would not have been possible without the involvement or at least tacit consent of Mr. Chiluba. And, he said Mr. Chiluba, who came to office as a trade unionist with modest financial means, amassed huge personal wealth during his tenure in office.

"Because we know that the salary of the president and other allowances are determined by statute and he certainly could not have gathered the kind of wealth he has on the basis of the allowances and the salary he was getting from government,” said Mr. Chanda. “So, that's why there is strong suspicion that he must have got involved in corrupt deals."

Mr. Chiluba came to power in in 1991 on an anti-corruption and privatization platform, winning a decisive political victory to oust Zambia's founding president Kenneth Kaunda, who had been in power for 27 years.

It was not long however, before allegations of corruption began to plague his sweeping privatization process, which saw the state relinquish ownership of 250 companies.

After serving two terms, Mr. Chiluba attempted to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. That failed and he then handpicked his successor, Levy Mwanawasa, who surprised Mr. Chiluba and the country by appointing an anti-corruption task force, which immediately targeted his predecessor.

Professor Chanda says that this case is sending an important message to political leaders.

"So, future presidents will have to take care, not to steal public funds,” he said. “So I think that is the important message being sent out - that no matter how powerful you are, you are still accountable. At some point you will no longer be in office and the long arm of the law will catch up with you."

The trial is expected to last several months.