Housing and Infrastructure Development minister Ronald Chitotela yesterday shed tears of joy after he was acquitted on charges of concealing and being in possession of properties suspected to be proceeds of crime.
Chitotela also thanked President Edgar Lungu, First Lady Esther, the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the PF for “believing in his innocence”.
Lusaka Magistrate David Simusamba acquitted Chitotela and his co-accused on the basis that the State did not provide evidence to prove their suspicion that the money that was used to purchase the properties may have been proceeds of crime.
In this matter, Chitotela, Gregory Chibanga, Brut Holdings Limited and Diris Mukange were facing four counts of concealing and being in possession of properties suspected to be proceeds of crime.
It was alleged in one of the counts that Chitotela, Gregory Chibanga and Brut Holdings Limited, between July 3, 2016 and October 30, last year in Lusaka, concealed lot number 148 of farm 50A situated in Makeni disguised in the names of Diris Mukange, property reasonably suspected of being proceeds of crime.
It was further alleged that the trio between the same dates concealed part of subdivision A lot 22183/M situated in Ibex Hill, Lusaka, disguised in the name of Diris Mukange, property reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime.
The four had denied the charges and the State had called 21 witnesses to aid their matter.
The first witness, Mary Lubinga had testified that sometime in 2016, she put up her property in Makeni for sale, adding that she negotiated with Chitotela regarding the purchase price of the property and the matter was left under the charge of their lawyers.
It was also the State’s evidence that by a letter dated July 12, 2016, addressed to Andrew and Partners, Brut Holdings requested the said law firm to receive of their behalf, US$300,000 from China Harbour Engineering Services and to purchase two properties in Makeni and Ibex Hill, respectively.
According to the letter, the money was payment for the consultancy services they had offered to them.
Brut Holdings also gave instructions to the said Andrew and Partners to register the properties in the names of Diris Mukange, whom it claimed to be Chibanga’s niece.
It was also part of the evidence that when the two properties were acquired, Chitotela and his wife assumed control of them.
But delivering a ruling on case to answer, Thursday, magistrate Simusamba said although the act alleged against Chitotela in the particulars of the offence was that of concealing, no such act had been advanced by the State.
He added that instead, the State had advanced the act of ‘possession’ when they alleged that Chitotela had control of the properties with his wife after they had been disguised them in Mukange’s names.
Magistrate Simusamba observed that the State had further advanced that the money used to purchase the properties was paid by China Harbour, but added that there was no evidence which was indicating that the said company may or had disputed its indebtedness to Brut Holdings or a contrary position at all.
He said the State did not provide evidence to prove their suspicion that the money that was used to purchase the properties, may have been proceeds of crime.
“Consequently the prosecution has not taken issue with the source of the money from the facts above. Thus the source of money and the reasons for concealing the money being known to the prosecution, there was no factual basis upon which they formed their ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the money maybe proceeds of crime,” magistrate Simusamba said.
He said the suspicion advanced by the State in their evidence was therefore mere suspicion.
“Even assuming that I accept the facts above as proposed by the prosecution, I may not convict the accused in the event that they remained silent for the simple reason that there is no evidence of a factual basis upon which reasonable suspicion may be anchored that the money alleged to being concealed may be proceeds of crime,” magistrate Simusamba added.
He found that the State had not established a prima facie case against the accused and accordingly acquitted them on all charges.
Upon finishing with his ruling, there was massive jubilation in court from Chitotela’s supporters.
Chitotela was seen shedding tears of joy and even got a handkerchief to wipe the tears in the accused dock.
But before he could even leave the court room, his supporters sprinkled powder on him and escorted him all the way to the carpark in an unruly manner.
And reacting to the ruling, Chitotela thanked President Lungu, his family and everyone else for believing in his innocence.
He said he was meant to undergo the court process and didn’t harbour any hatred for anyone.
Chitotela added that he was puzzled that he was arrested for the transaction that happened in 2016, before he was even cabinet minister.
“What was puzzling to me was ‘how could I be arrested for the transaction that happened from January 2016 up to July 2016’? I was appointed for the first time as cabinet minister on September 29 and sworn in on October 1. I was meant to undergo this process. I harbour no hate, I don’t hate anybody and I forgave them the first day,” said Chitotela.
“I just want to say ‘thank you to President Lungu, the first lady, my family, the Seventh Day Adventist Church for believing in me, all the people of Zambia, the people from Luapula, the media, the party in Lusaka and in Luapula province, I say thank you so much for believing in my innocence. Now we need to have time to go back and start working. We need to work for the good of the Zambian people.”