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Malawi's Vice President Pleads Not Guilty

Malawi’s Vice President Cassim Chilumpha pleaded not guilty Monday to treason and conspiring to murder President Bingu Wa Mutharika at the start of the trial in the commercial capital Blantyre. Vice President Chilumpha and his co-accused Blantyre businessman Yusuf Matumula, are accused of plotting to overthrow President Bingu wa Mutharika's government by hiring men to assassinate Mutharika and key members of his government between January and April of 2006.

Fahad Assani is the lead attorney for Vice President Chilumpha. He said the vice president pled not guilty to charges of plotting to assassinate President Bingu Wa Mutharika.

“The vice president and the co-accused have both pleaded not guilty to the charges of treason and cospiracy to murder. And after the pleas were taken, we were supposed to go to another leave of application. But the leading counsel of the prosecution asked the court that we defer this application to some later time so that they can negotiate with their witnesses in South Africa,” he said.

Assani said a well wisher handed them a document, which was allegedly signed by a government official and the alleged assassins.

“By the kindness of some samaritan, we decided to leak the agreement that was signed between the former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the Hon.Henry Phoya. And this document was an agreement that government purpotedly entered into with the so-called assassins that they would be paid some amount of money to ensure that they testified against the vice presdient,” he said.

Assani said the uncovering of the alleged document has destabilized the prosecution’s case against the vice presdient.

“So when this things came up, it has actually staggered the prosecution very badly. And what we hear is that because the condition which the witness had given was that their identity should never ever be known by the court, the defense or the media, they have to renegotiate whether they would be willing to testify,” Assani noted.

He said the defense team now has documents that can really identify the alleged assassins.

“We’ve also managed to find out their passport numbers. And the South Africans have even now published in the Sunday Times newspaper, disclosing what sort of persons they are. And they are calling them spies from the South Africa side,” he said.

Assani insisted the document in their possession is authentic.

“This document is quite authentic. And the goodness about it is that it’s an original document. And from what we’ve heard from other media sources within Malawi, he has even confirmed it to them to be a genuine document, only that they should not say so in public,” he said.