Tantameni convicted me over the same drugs she is accused of stealing, woman tells court

A 42-year-old businesswoman has identified Lusaka-based Magistrate Maggie Tantameni as the person who sentenced her to two years’ imprisonment for trafficking in the ephedrine that the latter is accused of stealing.

Beatrice Saili, who resides in Lusaka West, further told the Court that her trial was conducted in a library at the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court.

This is the matter in which Magistrate Tantameni is jointly-charged with Felix Mkandawire, a court interpreter; Francis Mphanza, a senior public prosecutor and Didie Kangwa a senior clerk of court with three counts of abuse of authority, removal of property under lawful seizure and stealing by persons in public service.

In count one, it is alleged that Tantameni and Mphanza on November 8, 2017, Lusaka, being persons employed in the public service as magistrate and senior public prosecutor respectively, jointly and whilst acting together, did use the position of their respective offices to obtain property, profit or benefit for themselves or another.

In count two, it is alleged that Mkandawire, Mphanza and Kangwa on the same day, jointly and whilst acting together knowingly and with intent to hinder or defeat the process, did conceal 34.0 kilogrammes of ephedrine valued at K1,870,000.

The ephedrine was taken under the process of authority of the court of Tantameni.

And in the third count, it is alleged that the four between November 8, 2017, and December 30, 2017, in Lusaka, jointly and whilst acting together did steal 34.0 kilogrammes of ephedrine, property of Government of the Republic of Zambia, which came into their possession by virtue of their employment.

And when the matter came up for continued trial before Magistrate Susan Mangalashi, Wednesday, Saili told the Court that she was in the business of buying clothes from South Africa for resale in Zambia.

She further told the Court that she was convicted in 2017 for trafficking in ephedrine, but was pardoned last year.

Saili said before her arrest in 2017, she went to India where she ordered the said ephedrine.

She said upon arriving at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport on November 2, 2017, with two bags containing 34 tins of ephedrine weighing 68Kg, she was apprehended by some Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) officers.

“DEC officers started searching me. They found the bags containing ephedrine. They apprehended me and got the bags and took me to their office. They got two phones, a passport and US $300 from me,” Saili narrated.

She said she was taken to court five days later, but her matter was not heard because the records were not yet there.

“On November 7, 2017, I was brought to Court three at the Magistrates’ Court by DEC officers. The matter wasn’t heard because I was told that the record was not yet here,” she explained.

Saili said the following day, she was taken to the library upstairs, which was a small room containing books.

She said once there, she was asked whether the bags and their contents belonged to her, to which she admitted.

Saili added that after the judge (Magistrate Tantameni) then read the charge for her, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment thereafter.

She said she was later taken to Lusaka female correctional facility, but was, however, pardoned a year later, on December 25, 2018.

“After the judge (magistrate) had left [the room], the drugs remained there,” she said.

However, when the court rose to identify the said library, the witness was unable to show the Court the room in which she was taken.

She said that it was upstairs but did not remember where it was exactly.

In cross examination, the witness who had earlier identified Magistrate Tantameni, the interpreter and prosecutor as the people who were present during her trial, said she only met the trio the very day she was sentenced.

The defence, however, wondered why she had failed to identify the library when she was able to identify the accused persons.

In response, Saili said she could not fail to identify the people.

She further said when she went to buy the ephedrine in India, she went with the K1,870,000 cash in a suitcase and managed to pass through the airport without encountering any problems.

“Yes. I carried it in a suitcase,” said Saili.

Trial continues.

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