Chita Lodge managing director James Chungu has told the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court that he received, with shock, allegations that he interfered with a State witness in a case he is jointly charged with former Zambia Air Force (ZAF) Commander Lieutenant General Eric Chimese.
He said the witness in question had been working with him for over seven years as he was a main contractor at his properties, and that at no time did he ask him to flee the country.
But an officer from the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) has told the Court that when one of the witnesses told him that Chungu gave him a K700 and asked him to leave the country, he took it as interfering with witnesses and, therefore, thought it was best to cancel the accused’s police bond because he was clearly attempting to defeat the course of justice.
In this matter, Chimese and Chungu are charged with five counts of abuse of authority and money laundering relating to properties in Ibex Hill and Lilayi.
Previously, a Zimbabwean builder, Masaka Joe Tendai, testified that Chungu sent him K700 in August this year via Airtel Money and advised him to leave the country, saying the DEC wanted to arrest him because he had details of the house he built in Ibex Hill.
Arising from Tendai’s testimony, the State asked the Court to cancel Chungu’s police bond on account of interfering with its witness.
Chief State Advocate at the National Prosecutions Authority Gamaliel Zimba told the Court that the State found it worrisome that Chungu asked the witness to leave the country, saying if not curtailed, there was a possibility of interference with State witnesses.
But the defence submitted that the State’s application to have Chungu’s bond cancelled on account of interfering with a witness was misconceived and an abuse of authority.
The defence, therefore, asked the Court to throw out the application, saying Chungu had not conducted himself in a manner to warrant it to cancel his bond as there was no evidence for the Court to follow.
And when the matter came up yesterday, Magistrate Nsunge Chanda asked Chungu to show cause why his police bond should not be revoked.
In response, Chungu said he received the accusations of interfering with a witness with shock.
He said he had been working with Tendai for over seven years as he was the main contractor at his properties.
“I owed him some money. He (Tendai) was finishing off an ablution block in Kafue and he just suddenly disappeared after raising the structure to roof-level,” Chungu said.
He said he was not aware that Tendai was a witness in a case, but that he intended to take him to court as his witness in an event that he was found with a case to answer.
Chungu further said he had correspondence with Tendai on phone where he was asking for his money, which he (Chungu) owed him.
He said at no time did he ask Tendai to flee the country, but that the only thing he knew was that Tendai did not have legitimate documentation allowing him to stay in Zambia.
“I had no knowledge, whatsoever, that he was going to be a State witness. At no time did I ask him to leave. The money I sent to him was to service liabilities I had with him. I register apologies if this was misconstrued to be an attempt for him to flee,” the accused said.
At this point, the State said it was ready to call on stand the officer who issued bond to Chungu.
Once on the stand, Mukelabai Kwaleyela, the arresting officer from the DEC, said during the investigations, he spoke to witnesses of Zimbabwean nationality, who constructed a property in Ibex Hill, one of them being Tendai.
He said when interviewed, Tendai explained to him that he was called by Chungu at one of his offices where he found two other Zimbabweans.
Kwaleyela said it was there that Chungu had asked Tendai to leave the country and provided him with K700.
“At that time, he explained to me that Mr James Chungu told him that he needed to leave the country because if the Drug Enforcement Commission found him, they would arrest him. And that Mr James Chungu provided a K700 to Mr Tendai to use as transport to go back to Zimbabwe,” narrated the DEC officer.
Kwaleyela said Tendai also showed him WhatsApp messages regarding the same discussion for him to go back to Zimbabwe.
He said he took that as interfering with the witnesses in the matter, adding that he thought that cancelling police bond for Chungu was the best thing to do.
“The witness indicated to say he did not comply because, according to him, he was established in Zambia, with children. He instead came to explain to me over what had transpired. I took that, your honour, as interfering with the witnesses in the matter. And I, therefore, thought that the best that was supposed to be done was cancel the police bond because he was clearly attempting to defeat the course of Justice,” Kwaleyela said.
Magistrate Chanda adjourned the matter to December 30, this year, for a final ruling.