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Zambian Court Dismisses Chiluba Immunity Plea - 2003-11-11

A Zambian court has dismissed former President Frederick Chiluba's bid to stop his trial on corruption charges.

A Lusaka magistrate rejected the former president's application seeking immunity from prosecution for crimes committed during his 10 years in office.

The magistrate said Mr. Chiluba must stand trial and asked him to enter a plea regarding the 169 theft charges against him. He pled not guilty on all counts.

In this case, Mr. Chiluba and six other former government officials are charged with stealing roughly $30 million worth of state funds.

The ex-president is also facing a separate trial on 65 charges that he stole between $2 and $4 million.

Zambia's constitution shields former heads of state from prosecution for crimes committed while in office. But last year, Parliament stripped Mr. Chiluba of his immunity at the request of his handpicked successor, President Levy Mwanawasa.

Since winning a disputed election at the end of 2001, Mr. Mwanawasa has made the battle against corruption a centerpiece of his presidency, and his anti-graft campaign has specifically targeted his predecessor, Mr. Chiluba.

The ex-president's lawyers portray their client as a political scapegoat and the victim of a vicious smear campaign.

But many Zambians have long believed Mr. Chiluba had enriched himself at public expense while in office.