Austin Liato was yesterday treated to a rude shock after the judge handling his case refused to pass judgment.
But immediately after Judge Sichinga’s change of heart, the defence began to frantically search the court premises and make phone calls to get hold of Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito and judge in-charge Jane Kabuka to seek that the judgment be entered by a panel of three judges and not one.
In a courtroom packed with Liato’s supporters, Lusaka High Court Judge Dominic Sichinga refused to pass judgment in the close-to-a-year-old K2.1 billion Liato debacle claiming that he had now realised that some relative of his was a girlfriend to the accused’s child.
The defence and galleryspeculated at Judge Sichinga’s basis for making the decision with some wondering if the state had exerted undue pressure on the trial judge after learning that the judgment to be delivered was in Liato’s favour.
In the light of speculation of the prosecution’s attempt to manipulate the judgment, the defence also strongly demanded for a division court in order to have justice for Liato by lessening the chances of the prosecution, putting pressure on the trial judge to enter judgment for the state.
Sichinga’s change of heart came despite his presiding over the matter from trial.
In recusing himself, Judge Sichinga said;
“I wish to inform this court that I am with immediate effect recusing myself from handling this matter because from the day I sat to hear this matter last week on Friday; it has come to my attention that one of my nephews is courting the accused’s (Liato) daughter. I therefore, feel professionally and morally that I recuse myself from hearing this matter and passing judgment. Justice must not be done but must be seen to be done and that is justice. I will with immediate effect surrender the case file to the judge in charge and will advise on the conduct of the case,” Judge Sichinga said.
The former labour minister in the MMD government has asked the court to quash the conviction and a two-year sentence slapped on him by the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court because no evidence had been adduced to indicate that the K2.1 billion found on him was a proceed of crime.
This is in a case in which the former legislator was convicted and sentenced for concealing K2.1 billion now KR2.1 million suspected to be proceeds of crime.Liato through his lawyers has already made submissions stating that the prosecution team failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that the monies were proceeds of crime.