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Bank of China officers testifies in Chitotela case

 

THE Lusaka Magistrates’ Court has heard how the Bank of China in Zambia was approached by Anti-Corruption Commission officers to avail them with information which related to China Harbour account and in particular a transaction where Andrews and Partners received US$300,000.

Lusaka principal resident magistrate David Simusamba heard this yesterday in a case in which infrastructure and housing development minister Ronald Chitotela, who is also Pambashe PF member of parliament, is jointly charged with Gregory Chibanga, Brut Holdings Limited operations manager Mwenya Chisala and Diris Mukange for concealing two properties in Makeni and Ibex Hill and possession of the same which are suspected to be proceeds of crime.

Allegations in the first and second counts are that Chitotela, Chibanga and Brut Holding Limited between July 1, 2016 and October 30, 2018, in Lusaka, jointly and whilst acting together concealed lot number 148 of farm 50A situated in Makeni, Lusaka, disguised in the names of Mukange and the remaining extent of subdivision A of lot 22183 /M situated in Ibex Hill, Lusaka which was also disguised in the name of Mukange.

The two properties are reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime. The third and fourth counts allege that during the same period, Mukange possessed the two properties which were suspected of being proceeds of crime but they all pleaded not guilty. Testifying in the matter yesterday, Bank of China Zambia public relations manager Sandra Kabungwe Namukobo said the bank was given a warrant by the Anti-Corruption Commission in which the officer wanted the mandate file and bank statement for its client, China Harbour.

She said after receiving the warrant, she verified it by going into the bank’s banking system.

“I checked to verify China Harbour and I verified that the company existed and I informed the bank. Then we retrieved the information. After retrieving the information, which is the mandate file and statement, I handed them over to the investigators, I made copies and handed them to the officers. After I gave the officers the necessary documents that they requested for, I was informed that the officers would come back to verify certain things,” she said.

Namukobo said a couple of days or weeks later, the officers returned and asked for a specific transaction from the China Harbour account to another account outside the bank which was Andrews and Partners in the sum of US$300,000. She said the officers wanted more information on that transaction including the contact attached to the account. Namukobo said the director risk management authorised and signed her request to retrieve the data which she handed to the operations manager. When asked to identify the bank statement, Namukobo said it had a Bank of China stamp, a logo, and the usual dates.

She applied to have the document admitted in evidence but defence counsel Jonas Zimba said it was a photocopy and that no explanation was given on where the original was. He said the best evidence rule required that the best evidence, which in the case was the original document to be brought to court. Zimba said the original was not lost and was not in the hands of a stranger, meaning it was accessible and could be found.

He placed reliance on the case of George Bienga 1978 Zambia Law reports. Zimba said the document was lacking in every material, particular, and should not be allowed.

“My colleagues may argue that the document is relevant but the position of the law is much as it is relevant, it must meet the requirements and if it does not, it should be excluded,” Zimba said.

Another defence lawyer, Noel Simwanza, added that the witness stated that the document was generated from the bank system but did not mention who generated it. The State urged the court to allow production of the document, saying it was a bank document and its admission into evidence was clearly guided by the evidence in the bankers Act chapter 84 of the Laws of Zambia.

Ruling in the matter, magistrate Simusamba overruled the defence’s objection and allowed the production of the document. He said in his view, the document was computer generated which was more like an original document. And another witness, Mwangala Sikombe, 38, an administration manager at FNB Bank testified that on December 26, 2018, she was served a warrant by ACC concerning one of the bank’s customers, Andrews and Partners.

Sikombe said the warrant was requesting documents concerning a transfer which the customer made. She said her evidence was to show that the client had an account with their bank. Sikombe said the particular account was opened in June 2016. She said Andrews and Partners received US$299,995 from China Habour through China Bank on July 27, 2016.

Sikombe said there was a bank statement in the name of Andrews and Partners showing the same amount credited to the client. She said ACC requested a statement showing the transfer of US$154,000 to MSK Advocates. Sikombe said on the same day (July 27, 2016), Andrews and Partners withdrew US$5,000 over the counter.

She said later Andrews and Partners made an online payment of US$140,000 to Lungu Sim. Sikombe added that the firm made another payment of US$154,000 to MSK and Advocates. In cross-examination by Mataliro, Sikombe said the certificate of registration was issued on April 1, 2016. She said the account was opened on June 7, 2016, with the forms lodged the same day. Sikombe said she was aware that a law firm was required to open bank accounts. She said the account was just opened under Andrews and Partners.

The case was adjourned to April 2 for continued hearing.

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