News24

Zambia court halts probe into judges

2012-05-18 07:56

Lusaka - Zambia's High Court on Thursday suspended a special tribunal set up by the president to probe three judges he claims acted unprofessionally in the case involving a $2.7m loan to a local airline.

The high court's ruling, which also sets aside the president's decision to suspend the three judges, drew an immediate rebuke from the justice minister who said the government would appeal.

On Tuesday Zambian President Michael Sata hired a judge from neighbouring Malawi to head a probe over alleged misconduct of three local high court judges in a ruling on a loan from a government bank to the defunct Zambia Airways.

Two of the judges appealed to the country's High Court, arguing the tribunal was illegal.

On Thursday the High Court blocked the tribunal from starting work until it issues a ruling on the case, expected on 30 May.

Judge Flugence Chisanga ordered "a stay of the decision of the president of Zambia to appoint a tribunal [and] to suspend the applicants."

Justice Minister Sebastian Zulu warned that the decision prevented the government from holding judges accountable.

"This is the first time since independence that the judiciary has acted in such a manner," Zulu told reporters.

"This growing trend where we are having a dictatorship of the judiciary is a recipe for anarchy, and if not nipped in the bud may lead to serious problems in this country," he said.

He said the public has long complained about corruption and incompetence in the judiciary.

The three judges are accused of violating court rules and allowing politics to influence their rulings in the matter of Zambia Airways, which was owned by the country's prosecutions chief Mutembo Nchito and Post newspaper owner Fred M'membe and went bankrupt in 2009.

The three judges all played a role in the loan case, during which it was ruled that the airline's owners must repay the government loan. The owners have refused to do so.

Since winning elections last year, Zambia's president launched a broad crackdown on corruption, which his predecessor Rupiah Banda's allies say unfairly targets the previous government.