By Staff Reporter
Businessperson Abdul Karim Batatawala and three others answering corruption charges have pleaded not guilty before senior resident magistrate Martin Chipofya sitting in Blantyre.
The four are first answering the count of conspiracy to defraud by inflating the market price of 500 lockers procured by the Immigration Department.
They are accused of inflating the market price of the lockers sourced from Africa Commercial Agency at K2 950 560 per unit price totalling K1 475 280 000.
Before taking plea, magistrate Chipofya rejected a defence application to postpone the process before submission of disclosures and hear separately the cases of each accused.
The State had consolidated Batatawala and the three co-accused charge sheets.
The three are former Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services chief immigration officer Elvis Thodi, the department’s commissioner responsible for operations Fletcher Nyirenda and deputy director Limbani Chawinga.
Batatawala is answering . the second count of money laundering, while Thodi, Nyirenda and Chawinga are answering third, fourth and fifth counts of abuse of office, neglecting official duty and aiding money laundering respectively
Thodi is also answering the sixth count of giving false information in a public office.
Batatawala’s lawyer Alexius Nampota asked the court to postpone the plea taking, arguing that the defence lawyers did not have sufficient time to study the consolidated charge sheet.
But in his submission, ACB lawyer Moses Iron told the court that there is not much change in the consolidated charge sheet. He said the only change is that Thodi, Nyirenda and Chawinga were cautioned earlier than Batatawala.
He said: “In the interest of justice and protocol, the files were closely looked into and this is the same case which will be prosecuted as a one.”
After hearing both arguments Chipofya directed plea taking to proceed and that the defence can make an application later if they feel there is injustice.
He said: “The court feels that there is no reason to postpone the plea taking.”
Chipofya later directed that the State should serve the defence with disclosures by February 10 2022 and that the defence study the disclosures within 14 days before the start of trial on February 28 2022.
The four were arrested by ACB in mid-December in relation to suspected corrupt practices in the procurement contracts for uniforms and other accessories at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services between 2009 and 2012.