Two people who originally trafficked in the 24 kilogrammes of cocaine from Tanzania into Zambia that went missing under the custody of the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court have been jailed for eight years and 10 months with hard Labour.

And the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court has acquitted a taxi driver of Lusaka’s Matero area who was jointly charged with the duo.

In this matter, Sydney Mwansa, 34, an assistant manager of Taqua Bus Services of Tanzania; Shaibu Likuta, 45, a Tanzanian bus conductor and Teddy Matanda, 37, a taxi driver of Lusaka’s Matero area, were facing charges of trafficking in 24 kilogrammes of cocaine, which went missing under the custody of the Court and eventually led to the arrest of seven court officials and two businessmen.

The contraband is the largest seizure of cocaine that the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) had ever seized in the country and the trio had been in custody since 2016.

In count one, the trio were charged with the offence of trafficking in 24.19Kg of cocaine without lawful authority between February 20 and 21, 2016, in Lusaka.

In count two, Mwansa and Likuta were charged with importation of the said cocaine without lawful authority.

In count three, Mwansa was charged with possession of a house in Kamwala suspected to be proceeds of crime.

In count four, Mwansa was further charged with possession of another house in New Kasama suspected to be proceeds of crime.

In count five, Mwansa was charged with possession of a vehicle suspected to be proceeds of crime.

And in count six, Matanda was charged with use of a motor vehicle namely a Toyota Corolla to carry, conceal and convey the said drugs without lawful authority.

The trio pleaded not guilty to the charges and 12 witnesses were called by the State to testify in the matter.

In their defence, the second accused person, Likuta, a Tanzanian bus conductor, told the Court that on February 18, 2016, his boss at Falcon Bus Services where he worked as a conductor, informed him that Taqua Bus Services wanted him to deliver four boxes containing vehicle spare parts belonging to Mwansa on their behalf.

The Falcon bus was to travel to Zambia the following day.

He said when he arrived in Kapiri Mposhi, he called Mwansa to inform him about the cargo and that he would arrive in Lusaka around 04:00 hours, but Mwansa told him that he would not manage to collect it and he instructed a taxi driver, Matanda, to collect on his behalf.

Likuta said after arriving at Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus, he gave the cargo to Matanda and proceeded to Zimbabwe where he was later apprehended and told that the cargo he transported was cocaine.

When the matter came up for judgement in the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court, Tuesday, High Court Judge Kenneth Mulife, who was sitting as Magistrate, observed that the matter had been heard over a period of three years due to several adjournments attributed to the State and the defence.

He further noted that the case had been characterised by numerous rulings arising from the parties’ applications on points of law.

And in his findings, Magistrate Mulife noted that Likuta carried four boxes on his Falcon bus from Tanzania, and that the said boxes were intended to be delivered to Mwansa in Lusaka.

He added that Mwansa was the sole owner of the house situated in Kamwala, flats built on a plot in New Kasama and a motor vehicle.

Magistrate Mulife said in count one, he was satisfied that exhibit P1, indeed, comprised 24.19Kg of cocaine.

He also said he was of the view that Likuta was fully aware that the four boxes he was carrying contained cocaine.

“It’s for this reason that he is now attempting to disassociate himself from exhibit P1 (24Kg of cocaine) because he is aware that he was transporting the prohibited substance,” he said.

Magistrate Mulife said his finding was also confirmed by the fact that the four boxes that Likuta was transporting were not declared for clearance to custom officials at the point of exit.

He added that Mwansa was also aware that he would be receiving cocaine from Likuta.

Magistrate Mulife said Mwansa’s claim in his defence that he was expecting motor vehicle spare parts was also a scheme aimed at disassociating himself from the drugs.

He, therefore, found that Mwansa and Likuta trafficked in the subject cocaine as alleged under the first count.

Magistrate Mulife also found that the duo imported the mentioned cocaine into Zambia.

Turning to Matanda, accused number three, Magistrate Mulife said as much as Matanda was found with the said drugs, he was not satisfied that the offence of trafficking in the substance and unlawful use of a Corolla in transporting the drugs had been proved against him.

He said Matanda carried the said drugs purely pursuant to his occupation as a taxi driver.

“We will be demanding too much, expecting taxi drivers to be aware of the contents of the parcel they are carrying on behalf of their clients,” he said.

Regarding the third, fourth and fifth counts where Mwansa was charged with possession of properties suspected to be proceeds of crime, Magistrate Mulife said he was also not satisfied that Mwansa acquired the said properties using proceeds of crime because he explained how he acquired them, adding that the explanations were reasonable.

“The State has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt its allegations against accused number three (Matanda) under counts one and six. I, therefore, acquit him of these counts. Since these are the only charges he was facing, he is set at liberty immediately. Turning to the first and second counts, the prosecution has proved these two counts beyond reasonable doubt against Mwansa and Likuta and I find the duo guilty and convict them accordingly,” he ruled.

Magistrate Mulife, however, acquitted Mwansa in respect to counts three, four and five.

In mitigation on behalf of Mwansa and Likuta, defence lawyer Shadreck Mbewe said the duo deserved maximum leniency, adding that the Court had the authority to suspend the sentence.

He said Mwansa was a youth who was remorseful and ready to contribute to the development of the country.

Mbewe said Mwansa had confided in him that the three years he had been in custody, he had learnt a lot and would never again cross the law.

He added that Likuta was equally remorseful, and had promised to never again engage in cases of such nature.

But passing his sentence, Magistrate Mulife said although he had taken into account the mitigation by the lawyer, the duo deserved to be punished because the offences were quite serious.

He added that the huge quantities of cocaine was an aggravating factor and if left unchecked, the conduct would dent society because of the effects of the drugs the duo were transacting in.

Magistrate Mulife said he had noticed that he was still sitting as a Magistrate whose powers of sentencing were limited.

He, therefore, sentenced the duo to eight years, 10 months imprisonment with hard labour, with effect from February, 2016, when they were arrested.

“I will stick to the limits of the powers as a Magistrate and thereby sentence you as follows; in count one, each one of you I sentence you to eight years, 10 months; count two to eight years, 10 months imprisonment with hard labour. The two sentences shall run concurrently, from February 22, 2016, when you were arrested and remanded in custody,” ruled Magistrate Mulife.