NAREP president Elias Chipimo says the trend of missing evidence is a reflection of how rotten our society has become whereby corruption is tolerated at the top.

And Chipimo says it is illegal to hold suspects for more than 48 hours without any charge.

Last Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Commission in Lusaka arrested about 10 Lusaka Magistrates’ Court officials in connection with 24kg of cocaine which went missing last month.

The cocaine was an exhibit in a matter in which Sydney Mwansa, Shaibu Likuta and Teddy Matanda are jointly charged with trafficking and are appearing before chief resident magistrate Kenneth Mulife.

According to sources, the cocaine was reported missing after DEC had already called 11 witnesses to the stand.

The state told the court that the exhibits had gone missing in August 2018 and investigations were launched although the state proceeded to call other witnesses.

However, a combined team of law enforcement agencies arrested about 10 court officials last Thursday and began to search their houses.

Sources at the Drug Enforcement Commission told News Diggers that among those being investigated in connection with the same case were four DEC officers and a magistrate.

And Judicial and Allied Workers Union of Zambia president Peter Mwale alleged that his colleagues were being tortured in detention and wondered why they had not been charged.

Commenting on the matter, Chipimo observed that the trend of missing evidence in the Judiciary could not be stopped because corruption had become entrenched in society.

“It is going to be very difficult to prevent such things from happening when at the very core of our society, there is no morality. Corruption has become widely accepted as a reality that nobody seems to care much about and you are seeing that the leadership at the very top, having turned a blind eye to blatant and very clear corruption, and having demonstrated no leadership whatsoever for punishing offenders of daylight robbery, we are seeing it with the 42 fire trucks issue, with the information that has come from the Financial Intelligence Centre report. Now where there has been no action, even where information is available to law enforcement agencies, that leads to a wider sense of impunity because now, at every level, people will feel as if they can get away with doing anything. And so this is not a surprising development, it is not the first time this has happened, we have to wait and get the full facts, because everybody is innocent until proven guilty, but if in fact something is there to this story, just know that this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Chipimo said.

“There is so much that has been going on over many years, you will hear stories of individuals that have been either framed, or where evidence has gone missing, or where samples and exhibits and material that should be used as evidence is sold by officers within these same institutions. There is nothing new about this, the only thing that is new is that now more of this is coming to the surface and it is just a reflection of how rotten to the core this society has become and how we are now widely accepting of corruption because it has been tolerated at the highest levels.”

And Chipimo observed that the whole system of administration of justice was damaged at the moment.

“The whole system of the administration of justice is very damaged at the moment. And it’s unfortunate but frankly speaking, as soon as somebody is arrested, they should be charged within 24 hours and if they are not charged within 24 to 48 hours, they must be brought before court at the earliest opportunity so that the court can determine whether or not they should be granted bail, their freedom is subject to whatever conditions the court is going to provide. But justice is not really available to the ordinary Zambian…nobody should be held for more than 48 hours before they can be brought, within the shortest possible time, to a court so that the court can determine whether that person can be granted freedom or be charged so that they can be clear about what their legal rights and responsibilities are. So it is unfortunate, we are highlighting a case which is in the public eye, imagine how many young people, how many individuals are being subjected to these very same illegal restrictions and are not being given an opportunity to have their matter heard,” said Chipimo.

Meanwhile, on allegations of torture, Chipimo appealed to the Ministry of Home Affairs to look into the matter.

“These are allegations, they need to be looked into, we can’t comment exactly on the allegation until we get some facts and that’s why it is important that these people are brought before the court so that the court can make a determination as to whether rights have been violated through torture. But if these allegations are true, something must be done, we expect the human rights commission, we expect the senior officials within the law enforcement infrastructure to look into this matter, we expect the Minister of Home Affairs, under whose jurisdiction the police service falls to look into this matter and we also expect there to be a serious review if in fact this is true by the Ministry of Justice,” said Chipimo.

And in a statement issued by DEC deputy public relations officer Kamufisa Manchishi, Tuesday, the law enforcement agency asked JAWUZ president Peter Mwale to substantiate his torture allegations.

“The Drug Enforcement Commission has received with concern the allegations by the Judiciary and Allied Workers Union of Zambia (JAWUZ) president Peter Mwale regarding investigations into the disappearance of 24 Kg of cocaine which was part of other exhibits in an active case. It should be noted that the case involving theft of the drugs was actually reported by the Judiciary to the Zambia Police and DEC’s involvement is to the extent of the resultant offense of drug trafficking arising from the theft. In that regard, it is the Commission’s mandate to investigate such a case without fear or favour, including summoning any officers connected to the alleged theft in order for them to be cleared or eventually arrested and presented to court for the due process of the law to take its course. As such, the Commission will only issue full information in conjunction with the relevant security wings involved once investigations are completed in order to avoid jeopardising the case,” stated Kamufisa.

“We call on Mr Mwale to exercise restraint and portray behaviour befitting a leader of judicial officers by avoiding to peddle such unfounded allegations. The Drug Enforcement Commission operates on an open-door policy and members of the public, including the JAWUZ president, are free to come forward with any information they might have regarding the disappearance of the drugs in question or the people involved in the crime. We therefore urge Mr Mwale to lodge a formal complaint to substantiate the torture allegations as opposed to making personal attacks on innocent security officers performing their mandate in a professional manner.”