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Court to Decide on Graft Charges against Zambia Ex-President Chiluba

A Zambia court will determine the fate of Ex-President Frederick Chiluba Friday. Chiluba is accused of graft and stealing at least $500-thousand dollars in public funds.

He is also under fire for stealing public money during his two-five year presidential terms from 1991 to 2001. But the former president insists the charges against him are politically motivated.

Chiluba's trial has dragged on for six years due to procedural delays and his ill health. If convicted, the former president faces at least five years in jail.

Chiluba's former attorney Nicholas Chanda told VOA that public interest in the former president's graft trial has waned.

"The expectation around the verdict is quite difficult to know because political cases are very difficult to tell the direction," Chanda said.

He said the graft charges against the former president are political motivated.

"Usually matters which involve political heads or figureheads, it is very difficult to tell whether things are straight or whatever that is where the difficulty comes in. Already the victim or the accused, he is being politically persecuted … so whichever the verdict comes out, depending on which angle it takes, if he is acquitted, it's okay. If he is convicted, there would be another opinion. Another school of thought will be renewed because it's a political case," he said.

Chanda said public interest has sharply declined since the demise of President Levy Mwanawasa.

"You know, when there was Levy Mwanawasa, people were keen and interested in these matters, but of late, people have lost interest. They are no longer keen. I think people have seen the need to forge forward and make some progress. The euphoria is no longer the way it was under Levy Mwananawasa," Chanda said.

Chanda said there is no bad blood between the current administration and the former president.

"The only thing which makes this one unique is that currently they are in the good books with the sitting president. When there was Levy, there was that enmity. You could see it coming out, but that does no longer exist…so it will be interesting to see the way the judgment goes," Chanda said.

He said charges of theft against the former president are difficult to prove.

"You see when you look at the charges for instance which the judgment comes up today, they are charges of theft. Now usually, you know, the world over presidents do not tend to handle cash. So that is why I am saying it is quite an interesting case and I want to see how they are going to prove theft," he said.

He said it is likely the court will take the former president's health into consideration in its judgment.

"If it happens for conviction, the lawyers would have to apply for bail. One of the reasons they will use is the heart condition. So chances are that he is likely to be granted bail pending appeal. They (court) could also consider giving him a suspended sentence, so for example they will sentence you to two years imprisonment with hard labor, but suspend your sentence for three years. Meaning you don't go into prison. You go home and for a period of three years, you do not commit a crime," he said.

Meanwhile, Chiluba's wife, Regina is serving three and half years in jail after being convicted earlier this year for receiving stolen property, charges she vehemently denies.