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Former Zambian President Chiluba Charged with Theft - 2003-02-24

Police in Zambia have arrested former President Frederick Chiluba on charges of theft. The charges are connected to alleged corruption during Mr. Chiluba's 10 years in office.

Mr. Chiluba was charged with 59 counts of theft by a public official, in connection with the disappearance of millions of dollars in state funds.

The judge ordered his passport confiscated so he cannot leave the country. He was then freed on bail of roughly $300,000.

The arrest of Mr. Chiluba came after police questioned him for a second time in connection with allegations of corruption during his two terms in office.

Mr. Chiluba was not asked to plead to the charges in court, but in the past he has flatly denied the allegations.

A special anti-corruption task force has accused the ex-president of misusing millions of dollars in government money.

Parliament last year stripped Mr. Chiluba of his immunity from prosecution, and the Supreme Court last week upheld the decision. Police tried to arrest him Saturday, but under Zambian law they could not because his lawyers were not available.

Mr. Chiluba was swept into office in 1991 on a wave of popular support, in Zambia's first multi-party elections, ending the rule of strongman Kenneth Kaunda. But 10 years later, the two-term limit that Mr. Chiluba had previously advocated kept him from running for the presidency again. His popularity had plummeted, and his party barely managed to stay in power.

His handpicked successor, current President Levy Mwanawasa, won a narrow victory over a heavily divided opposition. Mr. Mwanawasa was originally seen as Mr. Chiluba's protégé. But since the election in December 2001, he has turned on his predecessor and targeted former government officials in an anti-corruption campaign that has boosted his own popularity.

Mr. Mwanawasa sparked the inquiry by questioning Mr. Chiluba's role in a botched $20 million weapons deal. The weapons were paid for but never arrived.