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Monday, 22 June 2015

Small victory against corruption

The Supreme Court recently sentenced former Labour Minster Austin Liato to two years in prison for possession of K2.1 million (in today's rebased currency) because it is "reasonably suspected" to be proceeds of crime. The sentence will run effect 2 June 2015. Liato’s farm and money has also been forfeited to the State.

Liato was charged with possession of property suspected to be proceeds of crime contrary the laws of Zambia on 24 November 2011. The lower court found him guilty but he won the High Court appeal. The State then appealed to the Supreme Court on grounds that the High Court erred in law when it held that to prove "reasonable suspicion" under the law the prosecution had to show a link between the source of the money or the accused to possible criminal conduct.

Supreme Court Judge Mumba Malila agrees with the State : “The money was buried underground in a chalet at the convict’s farm and the top was sealed with concrete...This raises a lot of questions on whether the money was gotten legitimately. This court holds the view, therefore, that the money was ill-gotten as no one would conceal money the way the convict did even if one had lost faith in the banking system in the country.”

It has taken nearly four years to reach resolution on this case. This is truly justice delayed. The only good thing about this case is that we are finally beginning to reap the benefits 'The Forfeiture of Proceeds of Crime Act, 2011'. It is one of the important development in the fight against corruption in recent years. A key element of the Act is that the "forfeiture proceedings" are treated as civil proceedings and not criminal proceedings, and therefore the burden of proof is somewhat lower.

One of the criticism of the previous legislation on corruption related to the burden proof for convicting criminals. Under the the 2011 Act the State is only required to prove their case on a ‘balance of probabilities’ as opposed to ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ which is required in criminal proceedings. The other thing is that the government is be able to recover obtained property without waiting for the conclusion of criminal proceedings. In theory it should mean that we can have parallel routes taken with civil proceedings being swifter.

`The combined effect of these changes is a stronger deterrence effect against corruption, all things being equal. The Liato judgement should help send an even stronger signal that corruption does not pay. We just now need to ensure these cases are concluded much sooner. One wonders what justice ministers do all day because very little progress is being made on speeding up cases.

Chola Mukanga
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2015

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