Witnesses Fired After Testifying in DBZ Case
In one of the most politically sensitive cases before the Zambian courts, a dramatic development took place this week in the matter of the Development Bank of Zambia’s effort to recover K14 billion unrebased from the powerful former owners of Zambian Airways.
In most normal countries, a publicly owned bank like DBZ would make every effort to recover millions of dollars in debt belonging to the taxpayers, but in the case of DBZ, observers allege that the bank is under tremendous political pressure to allow the Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito and Post Newspaper owner Fred M’membe “steal” from the Zambian people and not repay their debts.
This week four witnesses who testified against Nchito and M’membe with regard to the debts owed by the bankrupt Zambian Airways airlines have been fired from their jobs at DBZ.
Zambian Airways was co-owned by Fred Mmembe and Mutembo Nchito before going into deliberate voluntary liquidation, the two are refusing to pay back debt used to revive Zambian Airways.
The four key witnesses include Mr. Abraham Mwenda the Managing Director of the Development Bank of Zambia, Ms. Hepzibah S. N. Beyani Head of Credit at the Development Bank of Zambia, the Legal Counsel Mr. Andrew Musukwa and Mr. Calaphas Habasonda who was Director for Credit and Portifolio Management at the Bank have also been dismissed. The dismissals have been confirmed the Board Chairman of the Development Bank of Zambia Mr. Robert Chomba.
The four testified and won the case which was before High Court Judge Nigel Mutuna who ruled that the 14 billion Kwacha was obtained from the bank by fraudulent misrepresentation. The Board Chairman has stated that dispite the dismissals it will not change the status of the case since the documents are filed with the Bank.
The Case was earlier this year sent back to the High Court by the Supreme Court after an appeal filed by the defendants Fred Mmembe and Mutembo Nchito who contested Judgement by Judge Nigel Mutuna.
Mr. Abraham Mweenda testified of government influence when obtaining the loan and also resisted the Patriotic Front (PF) government’s pressure to withdraw the case from court. Mr. Habasonda testified that he was pressured by the Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo to Finalise arrangement for the Bank so that Zambian Airways could also access funds from Finance Bank Zambia Limited which amopunted to close to US4million dollars.
In a spearate development, the DBZ has rejected a free offer from the organization Zambia Voice to join the case between DBZ on one hand and Zambian Airways and the Post Newspapers on the other hand. Meanwhile, High Court Judge Justine Chashi has reserved on the matter indefinately.
When the matter came up yesterday afternoon, DBZ Lawyer Buta Gondwe refused Zambia Voice from joining the matter on public interest because the organisation was not part to the contract when Zambian Airways borrowed the money from DBZ.
Gilbert Phiri of PNP Advocates who is representing Zambian Voice argued that Zambian Voice is an organisation involved in civic education and as such it was suitable to join because it represented members of the public. Further, Phiri argued that the Attorney General who was in normal circumstances supposed to represent public interest has decided not to join DBZ and wondered who would if Zambian Voice was not allowed. Phiri said the money that Zambian Airways borrowed from DBZ is public money, and the recovery of this debt would benefit all Zambians.
The matter of the unresolved DBZ debt owed by Nchito and M’membe has been the source of tremendous controversy with regard to Zambia’s judiciary, as the case led to the allegedly politically motivated firings of two High Court Judges and one Supreme Court Justice. The case prompted President Michael Sata and the ruling Patriotic Front to take a case to the Supreme Court to allow them to form handpicked “judicial review panels,” which some say destroys security of tenure for judges and interferes with the independence of the judiciary.