Zambian authorities have blocked private prosecutors from appealing a court decision to acquit ex-president Frederick Chiluba on charges of theft of $500,000 (R3 million) public funds in a corruption row, officials said.
The powerful Council of Churches of Zambia (CCZ) criticised the government’s move while Britain raised concerns that Zambia’s anti-corruption fight could be undermined.
The move comes barely a day after the head of anti-corruption task force Maxwell Nkole was sacked, shortly after he had said authorities should not interfere with prosecutors’ plans to launch an appeal.
“I…do hereby (withdraw) the notice of intention to appeal,” chief prosecutor Chalwe Muchenga said in a court document seen by Reuters, without giving further details.
A senior British official said yesterday, when President Rupiah Banda launched a new anti-corruption policy, that strong political will was required to fight graft.
“(You need) to continue to be clear that you are ready to confront corruption no matter who is involved and that the policy of zero tolerance means just that,” Mike Hammond, the head of British aid agency DFID, said.
Britain has financed the prosecution of Chiluba and former senior government officials, who served in his administration, in an anti-corruption drive that has won Zambia praise from Western donors.
“We are totally confused and taken aback about the withdrawal of the appeal…the state should let the due process of the law go all the way to its logical conclusion,” said Susan Matale, general secretary of the CCZ.
In 2007, British judge Peter Smith ordered Chiluba to pay $58 million (R450 million) to the Zambian Treasury to compensate for money he was suspected of stealing while in office.
That ruling, hailed as a turning point in Africa’s battle against official corruption, was made in Britain where Zambian officials filed a civil case to try to recover properties and other assets owned by Chiluba and his associates in Britain and other European countries.
Pic: Ex President Frederick Chuliba of Zambia