When Obasanjo tried to broker truce between Mwanawasa and Chiluba

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By Emmanuel Mwamba
I remember the 18th of June, not the sad day of the 18th June of 2011.

But the 18th June of 2004.

A night before, a hasty program was brought to us informing us that, His Excellency Chief Olesugun Obasanjo, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and new Chairperson of the Africa Union(AU) would visit us.

The program showed that after meeting President Levy Mwanawasa at State House and he would see Zambia’s founding president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda.

So true to the program given to us, the following day, Obasanjo in flowing white majestic robes accompanied his entourage arrived at 12-2B Serval Road, Kabulonga.

After the greeting formalities the talks began. We were all ushered out.

I later learnt the details of the meeting.

We later found out that the real purpose of the high profile visit was to find a solution to a two-year brewing political conflict between President Levy Mwanawasa and his predecessor, Dr. Frederick Chiluba.

At this stage, Mwanawasa had lifted Chiluba’s constitutional immunity and had arraigned him before a court of law with corruption allegations.

At the Centre of the allegations was a total amount of $41million transactions done between 1995-2001 through a state security account known as “Zamptrop account” based at the Zambia National Commercial Bank -London Branch.

The state had just dropped the $41million criminal charges against Chiluba and had embarked on a charge of theft of $500,000.00.

But to pursue the “recovery” of the Zamtrop money, the state had taken a civil action in the London High Court charging that Chiluba “should pay back the money” as he had neglected to observe his fiduciary duties that led to the alleged loss of the money.

Chiluba refused to appear before this court insisting that it had no jurisdiction on Zambian matters and explicitly rejecting the authority of such a foreign court on him.

But he however religiously appeared in the Lusaka Magistrate Court for the $500,000.00 theft charges.

Obsanjo stated that he feared that disputes such as this one had potential or tendency to risk national peace and national security.

He said the summary of their meeting was that Mwanawasa was demanding that Chiluba “returns” two-thirds of what was perceived to have been plundered and apologises for his “crimes”.

He said the state would consider dropping the charges or a pardon would be exercised to free Chiluba and end the perceuved political crisis.

Before Chiluba could explain, Obasanjo quickly explained that he disagreed with the approach to the issue.

He said he told Mwanawasa the story of Sani Abacha who served as President from 1993 till his death in 1998.

Abacha stashed millions of stolen public funds in Western banks.

The Nigerian government investigated and established were the accounts were and negotiated with the family and persuaded them to surrender the stolen wealth mutual consent.

In the deal the family were left with a sum $100million.

He said this did not in any way, mean that the state was rewarding abuse of theft of public funds but that he found it in the case of Abacha, most practical way to recover public funds.

He said however he found the case of Chiluba extremely strange; “In your case here, there is no frozen accounts, no millions of dollars found, there are no assets that fit the description of “plunder of national resources” and currently you are facing a case of $500,000.00 in the courts of law”!

He said; “I proposed to President Mwanawasa that we could refund the $500,000 if it came to that”.

Chiluba stated his case; “The transactions in the Zamtrop account have been verified and established. No money has been stolen. He said the companies that were paid and services procured were known. In fact they will find some of my money in that account and probably some of my transactions.”

Chiluba stated that the corruption fight Mwanawasa had embarked on was purely a case of political persecution as it was selective and targeted only him and a few persons that served under his administration.

He expressed concern that his constitutional immunity was lifted Parliament without establishing any prima facie case.

He also said the charges that he was facing in the Lusaka Magistrate court were totally different to the charges that were presented to Parliament for the lifting of his immunity.

He said he found that despite lack of evidence, Mwanawasa had proceeded with the matter because of the many forces at play and that his hand were tied.

He said at the center of these forces were identifed international forces that were keen to make him (Chiluba) an example against “impunity in the governance of African countries”.

He also said that the Taskforce on Corruption, an adhoc entity formed Mwanawasa had engaged international investigative agencies and no single account or funds of his or that of his close associates had been found.

He also said the state had no inclination to establish the Truth as the key witnesses to the cases; former ambassador to the United States, Attan Shansonga and Xavier Chungu the former Director General of state Intelligence who ran the account under investigations, were both “helped and facilitated” out of the country the state.

I was later called and given a draft statement that the state had proposed Chiluba should issue.

The statement was proposing similar pledge and an apology

The two prayed together and Obasanjo left.

He said he would deliver Chiluba’s message and position to President Mwanawasa.

Later the Nigerian High Commissioner to Zambia came back to tell us that Obasanjo would be on his way to the airport and that the talks and reconciliation were inconclusive and needed to be pursued further.

At the airport, President Mwanawasa issued a statement stating that he was willing to forgive or pardon Chiluba if he returned two-thirds of “what he stole”.

Chiluba immediately rejected this offer and continued to plead his innocence.

The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) also rejected this offer calling it prejudicial.

LAZ chairman William Mweemba said; “President Mwanawasa’s reconciliation with Chiluba should not be done at the expense of the on-going investigations and the cases in court.”

Later audits done at the order of the London High Court both Grant Thornton UK and Pricewaterhouse confirmed Chiluba’s long held assertion that the security account had some of his money ..the audit established that the Zamtrop account, among other things, had $8.5million private money.

On August 17 2009, Chiluba was acquitted of the criminal charges against him in the Lusaka Magistrate Court.

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