Court sets magistrate free in ‘missing’ drugs case

A Lusaka based magistrate Maggie Tantameni, a senior public prosecutor and a court official have been acquitted by the Magistrates’ Court on charges of abuse of authority, removal of property under lawful seizure and stealing 34 kilograms of ephedrine drugs worth over K1 million.

Chisamba based magistrate Susan Mangalashi, sitting as Lusaka magistrate, dismissed all charges against the three, saying the State only scratched the surface when investigating the matter and that no evidence could point to who among the three took the drugs.

She also said no evidence had been adduced to show the motive why the three would have stolen the drugs.

She further said the State should have dug deeper by closing up all the loopholes such as searching the court premises or homes, as well as, bank accounts so as to obtain better evidence to make an airtight case.

In this matter, suspended Lusaka magistrate, Tantameni, was jointly charged with Felix Mkandawire, a court interpreter and Francis Mphanza a senior public prosecutor with three counts of abuse of authority, removal of property under lawful seizure and stealing of 34.0 kilograms of ephedrine valued at K1, 870,000, but they all pleaded not guilty.

It was alleged in count one that Mphanza and Tantameni on November 8, 2017 in Lusaka, being persons employed in the public service as public prosecutor and magistrate respectively, jointly and whilst acting together, used their position to obtain property for profit, advantage or benefit for themselves or another by direct or indirectly allocating the case of the people Vs Beatrice Saili without the authority of the Chief Resident Magistrate.

It count two, it was alleged that Mkandawire and Mphanza on the same date, concealed, 34 Kgs of ephedrine valued at K1,870,000.00, which was taken under the process of the authority of the court of honourable Maggie Kunda Tantameni.

In the last count, it was alleged that Mkandawire, Mphanza and Tantameni between November 8, 2017 and December 30, 2017 in Lusaka, stole 34 kilograms of ephedrine valued at K1,870.000, property of government of Zambia which came into their possession by virtue of their employments.

The State called 10 witnesses to aid its case.

When the matter came up for a ruling on case to answer, Thursday, magistrate Mangalashi noted that none of the witnesses for the prosecution stated that they saw the three accused persons taking the ephedrine.

She said she believed there was a dereliction of duty in the manner the case was handled by the arresting officer in her failure to question other witnesses or conduct a thorough investigation, in order for her to trace the movement of the drugs to wherever they were now.

Magistrate Mangalashi added that the drugs may perhaps still be laying in a corner of the court premises or in some room.

“Was a search done at the accuseds’ residence or did the search warrant if executed, audit their lifestyle so as to clearly ascertain if they used whatever benefits they hoped to gain from stealing the drugs to better their lives or lived an extravagant life?” she asked.

“In cases of such nature, criminals usually are found with hefty bank accounts, luxurious cars or homes and unnecessary expenditure that if the investigating officer had spent more hours on investigating this case would have brought such evidence before court. But I see nothing of that sort. Doubt is raised in my mind if indeed the accused person committed the offences they are charged with today.”

She said although the State had proved that the drugs came in the possession of the accused by virtue of their employment as public servants and that the said property was under lawful seizure and belonged to the State, the State’s evidence was so discredited by cross examination that any reasonable tribunal could not convict based on the evidence submitted.

“The evidence is manifestly unreliable and even if I was to put them on their defence I cannot safely convict them. I acquit all three accused, restoring their liberty forthwith,” ruled magistrate Mangalashi.




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