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Malawi Court Adjourns Murder Case Involving Ex-Justice Minister

Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Malawi’s trial of former Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara was adjourned after a High Court judge recused herself following allegations from defense lawyers that she was under pressure from unidentified individuals.

Judge Esmie Chombo confided to another person that she was receiving pressure and recused herself in the interests of justice, John Gift Mwakhwawa, one of Kasambara’s lawyers, said in the capital, Lilongwe, today. While that will delay the case, prosecutors will apply for another judge this afternoon, Director of Public Prosecution Bruno Kalemba told reporters outside the court.

“It is very important that the judicial process is seen to be impartial at all stages,” said Mwakhwawa. “The allegation is a perception by the defense that she is under pressure. The allegation that she is getting pressure is in itself dangerous.”

Kasambara faces charges of attempting to murder former budget director Paul Mphwiyo, who was investigating corruption among government officials. The shooting of Mphwiyo in September sparked demands for a probe into allegations that as much as 30 percent of state funds was being embezzled in what local media dubbed “cashgate.” President Joyce Banda fired her cabinet the next month, while donors, which provide 40 percent of the budget, froze as much as $120 million in aid.

Mphwiyo, who arrived in court with bodyguards, drove off after the judge recused herself.

Banda, 63, has denied involvement in graft and vowed to press ahead with investigations into corruption even if it means she loses elections scheduled for this year. Kasambara has named Banda as his key witness, according to Blantyre-based rights group, Malawi Watch.

To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Jomo in Blantyre at fjomo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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