Malawi kicks off graft trial of ex-president Muluzi

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BLANTYRE — The long-awaited corruption trial of former Malawian president Bakili Muluzi kicked off Tuesday, making him one of the few African leaders ever to stand trial for corruption.

The hearing, in which Muluzi and his personal assistant Liness Whisky are accused of siphoning $12 million (8.6 million euros) in funds from international donors, began despite his lawyers’ insistance that he was not fit to stand trial.

“The first accused is feeling a lot of pain. It will be risky for the accused to undergo trial in his current condition,” lawyer Kalekeni Kaphale told the high court in Blantyre.

Kaphale, who leads a defence team of five lawyers, said subjecting Muluzi to trial rather than sending him for medical treatment abroad “raises the issue of torture.”

Muluzi, dressed in a black suit and looking uncomfortable, appeared to listen attentively in the dock.

The former president, who led the country for two terms from 1994 to 2004, arrived at court using a walking stick.

He pleaded not guilty last September to the 12 charges of siphoning state funds. Whisky has also pleaded not guilty.

The case against them has dragged on for five years.

The government has refused Muluzi permission to travel to South Africa for specialised treatment for back problems, saying state specialists should first determine if he can be treated locally.

Judge Maclean Kamwambe said he would stop the proceedings if Muluzi appeared to need medical attention.

Alex Nampota, director of Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau, said the state plans to call 35 witnesses.

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