Zambia has begun legal action against its former president, Fredrick Chiluba, and a Congolese businessman in an attempt to recover £20m that was allegedly used to buy properties and to fund a lavish lifestyle instead of buying arms.
The move came two days after Zambian authorities in Lusaka, the capital, seized 150 designer suits, 300 shirts and more than 100 pairs of shoes belonging to Mr Chiluba. The government wants the British High Court's assistance in recovering more of the money, part of which is alleged to be still invested in London.
The suit against Mr Chiluba and his associate Katebe Katoto, launched in London yesterday, is being seen as a test case for Tony Blair's challenge to European institutions to co-operate in the fight against corruption in Africa. African leaders, their children and cronies are said to have stolen £78bn and hidden it away in European banks.
The Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is fighting to recover more than £5bn stolen by his late predecessor, Sani Abacha, and hidden, mainly Switzerland, has been scathing about the involvement of European banks in providing a safe haven for money stolen from Africa and their failure to co-operate in repatriating funds.
Mr Chiluba, who had been president since 1991, handpicked Levy Mwanawasa to succeed him in 2001 after he was forced to abandon his attempt to seek an unconstitutional third term. After Mr Mwanawasa won an election which was dismissed by the European Union as fraudulent, he immediately started an anti-corruption crackdown that targeted many members of the former regime. The lawsuit in the High Court to recover the £20m is one of many theft charges raised against Mr Chiluba, who allegedly stole the money during his tenure from 1991 to 2001. Similar charges were brought in a Zambian court, but had to be dismissed after two key witnesses fled the country.
Mr Chiluba, who began his career as a trade unionist, has denied any wrongdoing ¶and accused Mr Mwanawasa of pursuing a vendetta that had turned into a petty charade. "What they have done is to bring my underpants out to the general public," he said.
"It is sad that the fight against corruption is being reduced to discussing suits, shirts, ties and shoes. Zambians know me and know that I have always dressed very well from the 1960s."