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KBF curtails witness testimony in Chimese case

FORMER Zambia Air Force commander Eric Chimese’s defence lawyer Kelvin Fube Bwalya has prevented a witness from disclosing the amount of money that the former accrued from the time he assumed office as ZAF Commander until he was fired.  

Bwalya said salaries, pension benefits and emoluments relating to service chiefs cannot be disclosed without authority from the President, as it is considered classified information therefore disclosing the same would amount to an illegality.

This is in a matter where Lt Gen Chimese is facing charges of abuse of authority and is jointly charged with Chita Lodge proprietor James Chungu for money laundering.

Testifying before Lusaka magistrate Nsunge Chanda yesterday, Colonel Bernard Chileshe, a director in charge of salaries and pensions at the Zambia Air Force, under the finance department said in May 2019, after officers from the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) visited ZAF, he was assigned by the command to compute personal emoluments and benefits accrued by Lt Gen Chimese for the period he served as commander from 2011 to 2018.

“I got the information from the pension fund relating to payments made to NAPSA, gratuity, leave days, three months salary notice and repatriation for General Chimese, for the salaries, I got the information from the payroll for the period 2011 to 2018 when he retired,” Chileshe said.

He further explained that he also collected information relating to Lt Gen Chimese’s foreign travel allowances and compiled the said information for the DEC.

Chileshe mentioned an amount but before he could disclose further information relating to what Lt Gen Chimese accrued from the pension benefits, salaries and travel allowances between 2011 to 2018, Bwalya nipped his testimony in the bud as the evidence bordered on State security.

Bwalya said the law relating to classified information is very clear that communication of protected information by any person apart from an authorised person, there must be a specific waiver by way of authority.

“The salary, allowances and benefits of the ZAF commander are well known as classified information and disclosure of classified information without authority from the President may land the witness and others who give such information without authority into trouble,” Bwalya said.

“A person who gives such information without a waiver will commit an offence and may be liable to a conviction of a term not less than 15 years and not exceeding 25 years. My instructions are to inform this court that a commander’s earnings are classified as secret and confidential.”

He said the conditions of service for all service chiefs are given directly to them by the Secretary to the Cabinet in the name of the President and that conditions of service for service chiefs cannot be discussed without authorisation from the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Bwalya cautioned Chileshe against being found on the wrong side of the law, and restrained him from further disclosing what Lt Gen Chimese had obtained during the period he served as ZAF commander until he was retired in national interest, without being permitted by President Edgar Lungu.

Bwalya refered to a case where late president Michael Sata wrote a waiver to a Mr Sichinga who was the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Works and Supply for him to testify against former president Rupiah Band who was facing criminal charges in the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court.

He said senior officers such as Chileshe and other government officials were under oath not to disclose classified information even after 25 years of leaving office.

“The rationale is found in the preamble of the state security to protect the state and its officers. In the absence of the colonel producing a letter from the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces that he has been authorised to disclose classified information, such borders on illegality,” Bwalya submitted. “Even us as the defence we may need to get instructions from accused number one (Chimese) to cross-examine the colonel which will border in us receiving classified information which again may be illegal. This witness is incompetent to go beyond what he has told the court without committing an offence.”

In his response, Chief State Advocate at National Prosecutions Authority Gamaliel Zimba said the defence had alleged that the testimony by Chileshe was classified information and the state could only respond if the defence presents documentation to the cases they cited and those relating to classified information.

At this point, Bwalya requested that the parties and the court resolve the matter in Chambers before the court could render its ruling.

When the matter resumed a few minutes later, Zimba said there had been an agreement by both the State and defence that the matter be adjourned to September 10.

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