Rustenburg – Self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri is disappointed that witnesses failed to appear in the Lilongwe Magistrate's Court to testify against him, he said on Friday.
On his social media platform, Bushiri said he and his wife Mary were expecting to finally face the South African witnesses that were to testify against them in the extradition hearing.
"To my disappointment, however, we were told that the witnesses could not appear due to the following reasons. Firstly, they claimed that there were no available flights from South Africa to Malawi. This statement is very untrue as my own lawyers from South Africa managed to fly into the country just a few days ago," he said.
"Secondly, they enunciated that, the witnesses failed to appear in the Malawi courts due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. I do not deem this excuse to have any legal basis, seeing as though, both governments in question have put in place Covid-19 measures that have ensured the safe travels of citizens for the past months."
Radio station, Capital FM Malawi, reported that the director for public prosecutions, Steven Kayuni, told the court that witnesses for the state were ready and requested the court to have the witnesses give their testimony by way of video conferencing since they were in South Africa and cannot be physically present in court.
He said the challenge for the state was based on views that Covid-19 cases in South Africa are constantly rising and a curfew has been issued and there were fears of spreading the Delta variant and some of the witnesses were of advanced ages.
He said the law allows the accused to be physically present in court while witnesses may have their statements taken virtually, without them being physically present, suggesting the use of Zoom, Skype or Google Meet among other technologies.
According to the broadcaster, Bushiri's lawyer, Wapona Kita, opposed the state's application, stating that the application was only made on Thursday and it has no legal basis.
Magistrate Patrick Chirwa reserved his ruling until Tuesday, to rule whether or not witnesses would be brought to Malawi from South Africa to testify in the extradition case.
The charismatics preacher and his wife are wanted in South Africa in fraud and money laundering charges related to an investment scheme valued at R100 million.
The Enlightened Christian Gathering Church leaders were arrested in South Africa but, after being granted bail fled to Malawi claiming they were not safe in South Africa.
As part of their bail, they were only allowed to travel within Gauteng and North West until the case was finalised. The couple owns a hotel in Rustenburg in North West.
They handed themselves to the police in Malawi after a warrant of arrest was issued by Interpol.
Lilongwe Magistrate Viva Nyimba released them unconditionally stating that their arrest in Malawi, was unlawful because there was no formal request from South Africa.
He ruled that the couple could only be summoned to court and not arrested.
Pretoria has since formally requested Lilongwe to send back the couple to stand trial on charges of theft, fraud, forgery, failing to comply with bail conditions in South Africa.
African News Agency (ANA)