Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 16:55 UK

Zambia clears ex-leader Chiluba


Mr Chiluba has been suffering from ill health

Zambian former President Frederick Chiluba has been cleared of corruption charges after a long-running trial.

He was accused of embezzling $500,000 during his 10-year presidency, but a judge ruled the funds could not be traced to government money.

The Lusaka court delivered its verdict following a six-year trial prolonged by the 63-year-old's health problems.

Mr Chiluba has famously extravagant tastes - spending millions on designer clothes from Europe.

He has a huge collection of shoes, all of which have two-inch high heels built-in to disguise his diminutive stature.

'Harassment and shame'

After 10 years in power, Mr Chiluba handpicked his successor, Levy Mwanawasa.

But Mr Mwanwasa almost immediately stripped his predecessor of immunity from prosecution and launched an anti-corruption drive, which targeted the former president.

Jo Fidgen
Jo Fidgen, BBC News, Lusaka

As it became clear that he was going to be acquitted, Frederick Chiluba - a deeply religious man - looked up and whispered a prayer.

His many supporters crammed into the court whooped and clapped as the magistrate delivered six not guilty verdicts.

Elation turned into chaos as the diminutive former president, in his trademark high heels, left for home where he gave an impromptu news conference. The devil had been defeated, he declared, and he criticised foreign countries for meddling in Zambian affairs.

Thanking God, his wife and well-wishers, he closed proceedings with a rousing hymn.

The culmination of that process was the verdict read out by Judge Jones Chinyama in a six-hour hearing.

"We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the prosecution failed to prove that the accused stole funds," he told the court.

Mr Chiluba - who was president of the impoverished southern African nation from 1991 to 2001 - had argued that he was targeted in a political witch-hunt by the British, Zambia's former colonial rulers.

In a separate case two years ago, the High Court in London ruled that Mr Chiluba had defrauded the Zambian government of £23m using London-based bank accounts.

After his acquittal on Monday, Mr Chiluba lashed out at the Zambian government for putting him "at the hands of a foreign land and imperialists".

"For seven years I've been subjected to harassment and shame and embarrassment," he said.

His wife, Regina Chiluba, was jailed in March for receiving stolen funds while her husband was in office. She is appealing against the sentence.

Two businessmen, on trial with Mr Chiluba, were convicted of embezzlement.

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