Zambia has fired private lawyers who appealed against a court decision that acquitted former President Frederick Chiluba of stealing millions of dollars from public coffers, local media reported.
The lawyers were appointed in 2002 by Chiluba’s successor Levy Manawasa to investigate corruption allegations against senior government officials because he felt state prosecutors lacked the capacity to deal with high profile cases.
But their appeal against a lower court’s decision in August to acquit Chiluba, who was accused of stealing $500 000 of public funds during his tenure, set the private prosecutors on a collision course with the state. The state’s chief prosecutor subsequently withdrew the appeal.
Zambian officials have denied the dismissals were linked to the lawyers’ objection to Chiluba’s acquittal.
Acting government spokesperson Mike Mulongoti said the state had terminated their contracts because the chief prosecutor no longer needed their services, the Times of Zambia reported last week.
“If the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) feels he does not need any of these officials he informs and that is what has happened,” Mulongoti said.
Mulongoti said dismissing the prosecutors would not impede Zambia’s efforts to fight corruption.
University of Zambia economics professor Oliver Saasa said the dismissal of the private prosecutors would undermine the fight against corruption.
“The removal of the private prosecutors after the disbanding of the taskforce on corruption without any clear picture of the replacement shows that the war against corruption is getting more fragile,” Saasa told Reuters.
Despite the charges against him being dropped in Zambia, Chiluba has not been fully exonerated of corruption.
Zambia’s Supreme Court in February rejected an appeal by Chiluba against the enforcement of a London ruling that found he had defrauded his country while in power.
In 2007, British judge Peter Smith ordered Chiluba to pay $58 million to the Zambian Treasury to compensate it for defrauding his country during his tenure which ended in 2001. Chiluba was accused of using state funds for private purchases in Europe.
Pic: Frederick Chiluba