According to state prosecutors, the former Zambian president, Frederick Chiluba, has a case to answer over his use of state coffers during the 10 years he was in power. Chiluba denies the charge and rather points accusing fingers at the former colonial power, Britain, as an interested party eager to see him behind bars. Reginald Ntomba reports from Lusaka.
When criminal charges were first read to Frederick Chiluba in court some four years ago, his immediate reaction was to laugh. But when he enters the dock next month, he may find little to laugh about as he will have to expend his energies defending himself.
In February, a magistrate's court in Lusaka ruled that Chiluba had a case to answer, involving an alleged theft of $500,000 belonging to the state. On the same charge are two directors of a private firm which the government believes was used in siphoning state funds from the treasury during Chiluba's reign. With the latest ruling, the case passes its first crucial stage. It had earlier been mired in legal technicalities and long adjournments after Chiluba fell ill in 2006. To support its case, the state will summon over 30 witnesses whose evidence Chiluba would have to rebut when he opens his defence in May.
After winning this round, the state will be waiting in anticipation of how Chiluba and his associates will seek to prove their innocence. Judging from the time the case has taken to reach the current stage, it might take even longer to be disposed off.
Both at home and abroad, President Mwanawasa has not hidden his frustration with the sluggish pace at which corruption cases have been moving in the courts. Last December, he told Zambians in Germany that with the speed at which the cases were moving, it was likely that they would outlive his term which ends in two years time.
But this is not the only case Chiluba has to contend with. In May last year, he and 19 others lost a civil case in a London high court after it ruled that they defrauded Zambia of over $40m. Chiluba denounced the judgment as racist and claimed it was "engineered and orchestrated by the Mwanawasa government in consent with the British government". Having strenuously rejected the jurisdiction of the London court, Chiluba is now challenging the registration of its judgment in the Zambian courts.
The February ruling cheered the government, NGOs and anti-corruption watchdogs, whose comments have riled Chiluba. He argued, and rightly...