Thursday, February 21, 2013

Rupiah's lawyer a vulture - Luonde

COMMENT - Robert Amsterdam (Amsterdam & Peroff, corporate member of Chatham House/RIIA) whose clients in incude Thanksi Shinawatra (Thailand) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Russia). Apparently, former Zambian President Rupiah Banda is on a par with these individuals some way.

Rupiah's lawyer a vulture - Luonde
By Ernest Chanda and Moses Kuwema
Thu 21 Feb. 2013, 16:10 CAT

FATHER Richard Luonde has described Rupiah Banda's lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, as a vulture who is taking advantage of desperate politicians like the former president. And Amsterdam has described Zambians supporting calls to lift his client's immunity as playing a role of 'useful idiots'.

Meanwhile, the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has stated that the immunity provided for in the Constitution was against prosecution and not investigation. The Kitwe-based Anglican priest said Amsterdam had a tarnished image world-wide such that some countries had even banned him from entering them. He said Amsterdam had taken advantage of Banda's political misfortune and portrayed himself as a super-international lawyer.

"He has taken advantage of the state of mind of our former head of state and his family. And he says because I'm an international lawyer, I can represent you. When you are desperate in life, you end up losing a lot of things. The man is a vulture who is looking for desperate politicians like former president Banda," Fr Luonde said yesterday.

"This is the time that the former head of state should ground himself, stick to Zambia and answer all charges here. To go to such kind of lawyers like Mr Amsterdam who has no credible international record is unfortunate."

He said Zambia had competent lawyers that could represent Banda.

"Even our second Republican president Dr Frederick Chiluba when he was taken to court, he didn't rush for international lawyers. He stuck to Zambian lawyers because he had confidence in our lawyers, and they represented him throughout his cases. We have so many well-articulate and intelligent lawyers in Zambia who can represent him effectively.

To go to such kind of lawyers who just want to reap where they did not sow will just put him into more problems."

And in statement released on Tuesday, Amsterdam said that recent calls by the PF government and other stakeholders to remove Banda's immunity were politically motivated and an example of selective justice.

Amsterdam, who described people calling for the lifting of Banda's immunity as praise singers, further stated:

"...President Michael Sata's government is persecuting Banda in a completely opposite, backwards fashion."

He accused Post editor-in-chief Fred M'membe and Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito of guiding the undermining of the rule of law in the country.

"...The two men have already allegedly abused their powers to force the government to help them avoid paying back debt to Development Bank of Zambia, and now they are asking citizens to play the role of 'useful idiots' to support lifting immunity without even knowing why," he stated.

He accused President Sata and chief government spokesperson Kennedy Sakeni of direct interference in the judicial affairs of the country.

Amsterdam stated that the government had turned the fight against corruption into a political instrument.

Recently in Rosebank, South Africa, Amsterdam organised a press conference for UPND, MMD and ULP leaders, where the opposition heads called for Zambia to be suspended from the Commonwealth among other demands. The press conference has been widely condemned by a cross-section of the Zambian society.

Amsterdam also represented incarcerated Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2003 for corruption and is due to complete his 14 year jail term next year after a Russian court cut off two years.

He also represented former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who at one time was wanted to answer to corruption charges.

Last year, the Zambian government said Amsterdam was not welcome in Zambia. This was after he had gotten a tourist visa. He has once been denied entry to Singapore also.

Recently, Dr Ludwig Sondashi, who is president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Alternatives (FDA), said Amsterdam had been unfair to Banda and other opposition leaders by not advising them properly.

"In my view as a constitutional lawyer, I've not seen anything wrong which this government has done to warrant Mr Rupiah's running out to go and seek assistance. If anything, Mr Rupiah must be answerable to the local jurisdiction," said Dr Sondashi.

And in a statement, LAZ president James Banda, said that a proper case has to be presented to the National Assembly for the members of parliament to seriously consider before Banda's immunity is removed.

James Banda stated that lifting the immunity of Banda now would be premature and risks being an academic exercise as long as critical issues were not addressed.

"It is established by the Republican Constitution (Article 43 3) and the courts of law that the National Assembly can lift the immunity of a former head of state if it has before it allegations showing prima facie criminal conduct and that to remove such immunity would not be contrary to the interests of the state. Therefore, it is not only evidence of criminal conduct which is to be considered.

The parliamentarians must address their minds to the question whether removing the immunity of the head of state is not contrary to the interests of the state," Banda stated.

Banda stated that the immunity provided for in the Constitution was against prosecution and not investigation.

He stated that once credible investigations were carried out and it emerges that there was a prima facie evidence of wrong doing then at that point, Parliament might be moved on a motion for the lifting of the immunity.

"However, the former head of state enjoys all constitutional rights and liberties of any person suspected to have committed a crime.

"Further, the issue of the lifting of immunity of a former head of state is not without precedent in Zambia. Following the acquittal of late president Frederick Chiluba, uproar was raised against the judgment and it was a strong feeling amongst many stakeholders that the justice system was interfered with. The Law Association raised concern with the judgment as well and we were clear," stated James Banda.

According to LAZ, the precedent and experience Zambia had gone through over Chiluba should help the country not make similar mistakes.

"In this regard pertinent questions to ask before considering the removal of the immunity of the former head of state are:

Have the problems identified in the justice system been rectified?
Do our investigation and prosecution systems enjoy independence and credibility?

In our view, before the above issues/ questions are addressed this process (removing Banda's immunity) will be mired in controversy and the whole process, which might earn kudos for certain sectors of our political system, risks achieving nothing," stated Banda.

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