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Zambian Ex-Leader Seeks Clarification After Summons

  • Peter Clottey

Zambia's former president, Rupiah Banda, is seen in a March 8, 2011, file photo.

Zambia's former president, Rupiah Banda, is seen in a March 8, 2011, file photo.

An attorney says Zambia’s former president Rupiah Banda is seeking clarification from the government before deciding whether to appear before anti-graft investigators Monday.

Attorney Sakwiba Sikota says Zambia President Michael Sata's government is being vindictive by persecuting the former leader as part of an effort to weaken opposition parties by harassing and intimidating their leaders.

The government rejects Sikota’s claims, saying the Banda summons is part of a crusading effort to root out graft in Zambia.

Sikota says there is a contradiction between the summons letter from the country's anti-graft body and a statement to Zambia's parliament by Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba.

Sikota says, “In their letter they said they want to invite (Banda) for interviews, in other words for purposes of investigation. This seems to be quite different and in contradiction with what the minister of justice said in the house." But the lawyer says the justice minister said, "... they had finished their investigation and that there were no further investigations to be done.”

The attorney says he needs to know why his client is being summoned.

“Once we’ve got that clarification that is when we will be able to make that call [for Banda],” continued Sikota, “if it is for purposes of arrest then they should let us know. If it is for purposes of investigation then they are contradicting the minister of justice.”

Parliament last week lifted Banda’s immunity from criminal prosecution after the government urged the legislature to do so, claiming it will enable officials to investigate cases of corruption during the former president’s rule. The removal of the immunity allows the government to prosecute Mr. Banda for financial malfeasance he is alleged to have committed from 2008 to 2011.

Supporters of the government say if the former president has nothing to hide, he should allow the investigation to continue, since he would have nothing to fear.

But Sikota says by arguing there are corruption cases to be investigated, the government is implying Mr. Banda is guilty and he has to now prove his innocence.

“In a system where there isn’t any vindictiveness, where people are not driven by hate that argument possibly could be made. But where you have a situation where there is already prejudgment made ... it is clear that what you have is a persecution and not a prosecution,” said Sikota.

“If you are professing that you are a government driven by the rule of law, good governance and fighting corruption, you will not corrupt the law by going against it. Our argument is that the process, which was used was tainted,” said Sikota.

Meanwhile, Mr. Banda says he has been deeply touched by the support he has been receiving.

“I watched the immunity debate on television in the company of my family and young colleagues. I could not help but admire and pricelessly appreciate the manner in which the opposition members of parliament debated. I also received numerous phone calls of solidarity. I can give back nothing but my gratitude for the gesture,” said Banda.

The former president has appealed to Zambians to remain calm after his immunity was lifted.