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Friday, 29 December, 2000, 22:35 GMT
Malawi minister freed on bail
Brown Mpinganjira and his wife Lizzie
Brown Mpinganjira and his wife Lizzie
By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

A court in Malawi has granted bail to a former senior minister, Brown Mpinganjira, who has been accused of accepting bribes.

The centre of the country's commercial capital, Blantyre, ground to a halt when some 5,000 supporters tried to escort a convoy of cars driving Mr Mpinganjira home.


This is a political trial, it's a whole political system on trial

Brown Mpinganjira
Heavily armed policemen used teargas to disperse the crowd and prevent a repetition of Thursday's disorders when Mr Mpinganjira's supporters chanted slogans criticising the Malawi government.

Mr Mpinganjira handed himself in to police on Wednesday after learning that a warrant of arrest has been issued against him.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption and accepting bribes.

'Political trial'

Police officers were prepared for Friday's hearing, and formed a ring outside the small courtroom, allowing in only lawyers, senior politicians, Mr Mpinganjira's relatives and journalists.

President Bakili Muluzi
President Muluzi denies ordering the arrest
Silvester Kalembera, principal resident magistrate at Blantyre Magistrates Court, said he found no reason to deny Mpinganjira bail because he had co-operated with police investigators.

"Brown James Mpinganjira handed himself in to police, another reason why I think he cannot escape from justice," he said.

Mr Kalembera, however, ordered the former minister to surrender all his travel documents to the court, report to police twice a week and deposit a bail bond of $1200.

As his lawyers signed the papers, Mr Mpinganjira held an impromptu press conference inside the court, where he described as ridiculous charges that he had accepted $731 in bribes.

"This is a political trial, it's a whole political system on trial," he said.

Threat

Mr Mpinganjira said he was arrested because he had threatened to reveal names of corrupt officials and what he called "the biggest thief in Malawi".


Brown James Mpinganjira handed himself in to police, another reason why I think he cannot escape from justice

Magistrate Silvester Kalembera
He said authorities wanted to lock him up in order to silence him.

To the applause of his supporters, Mr Mpinganjira said: "I am told that somehow to be a leader in this country one has to pass through prison walls."

He added that the two-day prison ordeal had strengthened his resolve to lead a revolution to "save democracy" in Malawi.

"I was imprisoned by Dr [Hastings Kamuzu] Banda before; I have been imprisoned by President Muluzi now. But this has not cowed my spirits."

Criminal charges

He told the cheering crowd that only a cat eats his kittens, an indirect attack on President Muluzi whom some accuse of victimising dissenting views in the ruling party.

Mr Mpinganjira said he would continue to criticise any undemocratic moves from within the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), of which he is still organising secretary.

This was a reference to suggestions that the UDF politburo is trying to purge senior officials who oppose President Muluzi's moves to run for a third term, against constitutional provisions.

The ruling party's politburo has denied Mr Mpinganjira's allegations that his arrest was political.

UDF deputy Secretary General Paul Maulidi said President Muluzi had no hand in the arrest and the charges were purely criminal.

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01 Nov 00 | Africa
Malawi sells ministers' Mercedes
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