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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06LILONGWE1095
2006-12-20 14:12:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Lilongwe
Cable title:  

VICE-PRESIDENT'S TREASON CASE: NO END IN SIGHT

Tags:   PGOV  KDEM  MI 
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VZCZCXRO0056
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHLG #1095/01 3541412
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201412Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3629
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
RUEHLMC/MCC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 001095 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR AF/S MATHUR, INR/AA BYRNES

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM MI
SUBJECT: VICE-PRESIDENT'S TREASON CASE: NO END IN SIGHT


LILONGWE 00001095 001.2 OF 002




1. (SBU) Summary: Eight months after his arrest for allegedly
conspiring to assassinate President Mutharika, Vice President Cassim
Chilumpha still awaits the start of his trial. The GOM has only
allowed the defense limited access to evidence, and the very long
delays in the case have provoked little public concern. The
government's handling of the case looks increasingly political, and
calls into question the president's commitment to due process and
the role of the vice president in Malawi's democracy. End summary.

Justice at a Snail's Pace


--------------------------





2. (U) From the outset of this case in May 2006, the GOM has
repeatedly delayed presenting the evidence against Chilumpha,
leading to widespread speculation that the case is weak and the
charges politically motivated. The government has ignored
persistent calls from opposition, civil society and donors to
present its case and proceed to trial.



3. (U) The case was also delayed by Chilumpha's claim of immunity
from prosecution under constitutional provisions that provide
immunity to the president but do not expressly protect the VP.
Following his November 2005 arrest on corruption charges, Chilumpha
filed a motion claiming immunity, and the courts took nearly a year
to make a decision, ultimately denying the motion.



4. (U) Earlier this month, the GOM finally presented Chilumpha and
his lawyers with the much-ballyhooed evidence of the alleged
assassination plot. In a December 2 appearance for questioning,
Chilumpha was played audio tapes supposed to be conversations
between one of his co-defendants and a white South African whom
Chilumpha is alleged to have hired (or to have acquiesced in a plot)
to assassinate Mutharika. He was also shown written statements
accusing him of involvement in the plot. Chilumpha's lawyers, who
were only allowed examine the evidence at regional police
headquarters and were not allowed to have copies, are claiming that
the tapes have been manufactured and are inadmissible in court.

The Forgotten Man


--------------------------





5. (SBU) Although the conditions of his detention have gradually
eased since his arrest last May, Chilumpha is restricted in his
movements and is closely monitored. Until last month he was under
house arrest, confined to his Blantyre residence. In November a
court ruled that he could move freely about the country but must ask
the government's permission to leave Malawi. Chilumpha recently
attempted to test the limits of his freedom, applying to the High
Court for permission to travel to the UK for medical treatment.
Government filed a motion to block the travel.




6. (SBU) Despite the gravity of the issue, most Malawians do not
seem to consider the long-term detention of their vice president to
be a major issue. Press coverage of the case is sporadic, and often
several weeks pass with no mention of Chilumpha in the media.
Chilumpha, a Muslim, has never been a popular politician in the
mainstream, and his plight has earned little sympathy from the
public. When Mutharika attempted to remove Chilumpha from office in
early 2006 by claiming that the VP had neglected his duties, most
Malawians supported the president, even though the move was
blatantly contrary to the constitutional provisions for impeachment.
It was widely believed that Chilumpha had done a poor job, did not
merit such a high office, and should be fired, notwithstanding the
constitutional requirement for impeachment by Parliament.



7. (SBU) Even Chiumpha's own United Democratic Front (UDF) party
colleagues have largely abandoned him, with most remaining silent on
the subject of his arrest. UDF Party Chairman and former President
Bakili Muluzi last month called for Chilumpha's release, the first
time the former President had spoken out on the issue since the
arrest eight months ago. The motivations of the UDF leaders are
seen as entirely selfish, since Muluzi and others are already lining
up support for the party's presidential nomination in 2009. Most
seem content to see Chilumpha, a potential competitor, remain under
restrictions and out of the presidential race. This is all the more
striking considering that Chilumpha is the highest-ranking UDF
member currently holding public office.

Big Gap at the Top


--------------------------





8. (SBU) As the Chilumpha treason case drags on past the halfway
mark of Mutharika's first term, Malawi remains without a vice
president. Long before the treason arrest, Chilumpha had ceased to
function effectively as VP, because Mutharika did not trust him and
strictly limited his authority. The rift between the two became
public within the first nine months of the administration, when

LILONGWE 00001095 002.2 OF 002


Mutharika quit the UDF in early 2005 and formed his new party.
Chilumpha was the most prominent member of the cabinet to remain in
the UDF, and he gave no hint of severing his ties with Muluzi. Some
months later, in August 2005, Mutharika stripped Chilumpha of his
ministerial portfolios and deliberately sidelined the VP. In
November 2005 he was arrested on charges of corruption stemming from
his role as minister in the previous Muluzi government, but the case
was suspended pending a ruling on his immunity. Chilumpha stopped
attending cabinet meetings and dropped out of public view, which led
to Mutharika's accusation of dereliction in early 2006 and the
attempted removal of Chilumpha through "constructive resignation."
When the removal was declared unconstitutional, the GOM moved to
humiliate Chilumpha publicly by drastically reducing the budget of
the VP's office and stripping him of his household staff, vehicles,
and security detail. With some difficulty, Chilumpha's attorneys
obtained court orders to restore the staff and security. Finally,
in May 2006, Chilumpha was arrested for conspiracy to assassinate
the president.

Comment: No Way to Run a Democracy


--------------------------





9. (SBU) As time passes, the GOM's delay in prosecuting the treason
case makes it appear ever more likely that the case is just the
latest (and most successful) attempt by Mutharika to render one of
his nemeses inoperative. The government's hand is weak, and
prosecutors are understandably reluctant to bring the case to trial.
At the current pace, the case is likely to drag on for many more
months, and as long as it continues, the vice president remains
effectively sidelined. The delay suits different players for
different reasons, but the end result is that Chilumpha is not
getting his day in court and basic due process is not being
observed. Ultimately, the interminable delay transforms Chilumpha's
case from a legal/political issue to a matter of human rights.



10. (SBU) The absence of a functioning vice president creates a
serious leadership gap and significant questions about presidential
succession. It also calls into question Mutharika's attitude toward
the role and office of the vice president, a disdain also evident in
his attitude toward elected district councils, some aspects of
Parliament's constitutional role, and several other institutions and
business entities that do not follow his personal instructions. He
clearly does not feel the need to have a VP, a further manifestation
of the increasingly evident autocratic style Mutharika has displayed
during his presidency. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of
Chilumpha's predicament is that almost no one in Malawi seems to
care. In the personality-based politics of this country,
Chilumpha's unpopularity and poor stature override any concerns
about constitutional order. The case is yet another symptom of the
chronic ailments of Malawi's weak, conflict-prone democracy.

EASTHAM