Zambia President Rupiah Banda has denied influencing the decision to acquit former president Frederick Chiluba on corruption charges, in a case analysts say could hurt the country’s efforts to stamp out graft.
The acquittal has created controversy in the southern African country with Britain, civic and opposition leaders accusing the government of reneging on a wider anti-corruption fight launched in 2002 by late president Levy Mwanawasa.
Zambia has earned praise from Western donors for cracking down on corruption, a policy that critics say is rare in Africa, Reuters reports.
The state-run Zanis news agency yesterday quoted Banda as saying a magistrates’ court that acquitted Chiluba on charges of the theft of nearly $500,000 (R3 million) of public funds had made its own decision.
“I had nothing to do with the acquittal of Dr. Chiluba,” Banda was quoted as telling journalists.
Last month, Zambian authorities blocked private prosecutors from appealing against a court decision to acquit Chiluba.
The government has said it will not challenge Chiluba’s acquittal because the appeal is unlikely to succeed.
The leader of the main opposition Patriotic Front (PF) party, Michael Sata, has criticised the move.
“Sata is not the right person to be telling my government who should be fired and he is not the president of this country,” Banda said.
The influential Council of Churches of Zambia has criticised the government’s move while Britain has said Zambia’s anti-corruption fight could be undermined.
The government’s decision came barely a day after the head of the anti-corruption task force, Maxwell Nkole, was sacked shortly after he had said authorities should not interfere with prosecutors’ plans to launch an appeal.
In 2007, British judge Peter Smith ordered Chiluba to pay $58 million (R444 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: President Rupiah Banda of Zambia