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Zambia Fires Corruption Task Force Chair After Appealing Chiluba's Acquittal

Zambia's government has fired the chairman of the country's Task Force on Corruption, Maxwell Nkole after he filed an appeal against former President Frederick Chiluba's acquittal.

This leaves some observers to wonder whether President Rupiah Banda is committed to the fight against corruption.

Former President Chiluba was acquitted on all counts of embezzling about 500 thousand dollars in state funds while he was president of Zambia from 1991 to 2001.

Nkole said he was fired because he spoke out against former President Chiluba's acquittal.

"Last night I had an hour's interview on television, and I think I spoke very strongly about the acquittal of Doctor Chiluba. And I also prayed that the anti-corruption fight be intensified. And today I'm told they don't want to continue with me," Nkole said.

Zambian Information Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha said the Banda government is still dedicated to fighting corruption.

He said Nkole's dismissal had nothing to do with his stance against the acquittal of former President Chiluba.

"The issue of the acquittal of President Chiluba and indeed the course of law is a process for anybody, including the Task Force to ahead and lodge an appeal, and let the court hear the case. It's no problem," Shikapwasha said.

Nkole said Zambian President Rupiah Banda and former President Chiluba are working together closely.

"At least President Chiluba doesn't have the kind of bad relationship that he had with (late President) Mwanawasa. He has a better and more accommodating relationship with the current government," Nkole said.

Nkole could not confirm or deny Zambian news reports alleging that President Banda might have influenced the court's decision to acquit former President Chiluba.

"Only time will tell. For us, I gave instructions for our lawyers to take the matter up to the higher court on appeal. And should the higher court actually overturn the lower court's decision, then I think the truth will start coming out as to whether there has been any political influence in the way the lower court decided the case," Nkole said.

Sounding not too confident about the appeal, Nkole said it would take a very unconventional decision and procedure to undo the lower court's ruling.

Nkole said he was not optimistic about the future of the fight against corruption in Zambia.

"The government said they are still committed to the fight. I think what will be different is the strategy which they want to employ how they want to intensify the fight. Only time will tell," Nkole said.

He said he will spend his time supporting anti-corruption groups in and outside Zambia and sharing his experiences.