Blantyre, Malawi, March 13 (Raphael Tenthani – Newstime Africa) – The Chief Resident Magistrates Court in the capital, Lilongwe, has leveled treason charges against all the twelve suspects in an
alleged coup plot in the wake of the sudden death of former Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika last April.
The figure of the suspects has swollen to twelve with the inclusion of former presidential legal advisor Allan Ntata who was not arrested in the unprecedented wave of arrests on Monday as he is currently in the United Kingdom.
Chief Resident Magistrate Agnes Chinangwa also slapped an additional charge of inciting mutiny on Prof. Peter Mutharika, the late president’s brother, Chief Secretary to the Government Bright Msaka and Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe, who was Finance Minister in the Mutharika administration, for allegedly urging Army Commander General Henry Odillo for “the army to just take over”, according to the inquiry report.
Ntata, who was not present in court as he had left Malawi before his boss was even buried, has received an additional charge of Disobedience of Statutory Duty alongside Mutharika, Gondwe, former Local Government Minister Henry Mussa and deputy Chief Secretary to the Government Necton Mhura. Also absent in court were Gondwe and former Health Minister Jean Kalirani who collapsed in police cell Monday night and were rushed to hospital.
Kalirani, Msaka and Mutharika have also been charged with giving false evidence to the Commission of Inquiry into the president’s death.
The rest of the suspects include former Information Minister Patricia Kaliati, former Youth Minister Symon Vuwa Kaunda, former Presidential Affairs Minister Nicholas Dausi, former deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa and presidential guard commander Duncan Mwapasa.
The eleven have since been brought back to police cells awaiting bail application at the High Court on Thursday. However, former presidential guard commander Mwapasa was later released on bail.
Meanwhile, hundreds of supporters of the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) – including former First Lady Callista Mutharika and DPP Leader in Parliament George Chaponda, thronged the premises of the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrates Court to give their leaders moral support. But, unlike Tuesday, there was no incidents of violence as heavily-armed police officers kept a close watch.
Chaponda told journalists outside the court that the whole issue was political. “There are a lot of problems in the country to waste time on this,” he said. “Government is only trying to divert attention from real problems.”
President Mutharika, who ruled Malawi since 2004, collapsed in his office and on the way to Lilongwe’s Kamuzu Central Hospital from cardiac arrest complications on 5 April. Soon after the death of the 78-year-old economist-turned-politician cabinet ministers and senior government officials held a number of secret meetings aimed at upstaging then Vice President Banda from assuming power as demanded by the Constitution.
Mutharika and Banda had fallen out as her boss preferred his younger brother, Peter, to take over from him when he retired in 2014. Banda, who was next in the succession line, resisted the anointment of the 72-year-old Washington State University constitutional law professor, and was subsequently expelled from the ruling party.
She subsequently founded her own People’s Party (PP). According to the report, the younger Mutharika and Gondwe had suggested to Army Commander Gen. Henry Odillo that the army “just take over”. But Odillo told
the Commission “he was uncomfortable with the suggestion for it was not provided for in the Constitution”.
As the Mutharika administration haggled over what to do, it delayed the confirmation of Mutharika’s death and instead sent the President’s dead body to South Africa for, according to former Information Minister Kaliati’s April 6 midnight press conference, “further treatment”.
The administration grudgingly confirmed the death of the President on 7 April and Banda was quickly sworn in on the same day. She fired most of Mutharika’s associates but retained a few, including Gondwe.
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