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Zambia's Ex-President Goes on Trial - 2003-12-09

The first of two corruption trials against former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba began today in the Zambian capital city of Lusaka.

Mr. Chiluba and six associates, who are accused of stealing millions of dollars from the government, went to court Tuesday to face 169 charges of theft, corruption and abuse of power.

The trial, one of two against Mr. Chiluba this month, is the result of a major anti-corruption drive by his hand-picked successor, Levy Mwanawasa, and is seen as a test case for good governance in Africa.

Mr. Chiluba, who was Zambia's president from 1991 until 2001, declined to comment on his case as he entered the courtroom, but he did offer Christmas greetings to all in the court.

Investigators allege the former president stole or misused $29 million, using such methods as having the Zambian secret service deposit money from the country's Foreign Ministry into bank accounts in Britain. He says he is innocent of all charges.

A former unionist, Mr. Chiluba defeated Zambia's 27-year founding president Kenneth Kaunda in a 1991 election, running on an anti-corruption platform. During his 10 years in office, he moved the country away from socialism and oversaw the sale of over 250 state companies.

But critics, and state investigators, allege that the privatization process and much of Mr. Chiluba's administration was corrupt.

After serving two terms, Mr. Chiluba tried to change Zambia's constitution to allow him to run for a third. When that failed, he picked Mr. Mwanawasa, a former vice president, as his successor. Opposition parties allege Mr. Chiluba rigged the 2001 presidential election to favor Mr. Mwanawasa, but the new president surprised his former mentor by launching an aggressive anti-corruption campaign aimed largely at his predecessor.

The trial begins after more than a year-long investigation and protracted but unsuccessful legal battle by Mr. Chiluba to protect his immunity. Also on trial with the former president are a former intelligence chief, a former ambassador to the United States, two businessmen and two civil servants.

The current trial is expected to last until December 12. A second trial against Mr. Chiluba and former intelligence chief Xavier Chungu over the alleged theft of an additional $4 million is expected to begin December 16.