'Shopaholic' ex-president of Zambia cleared of corruption

Chiluba walks free from test-case trial in huge setback to anti-corruption drive across Africa

A court in Zambia yesterday acquitted the former president Frederick Chiluba of looting the treasury while in office in a decision greeted as a major setback to anti-corruption efforts across Africa. The surprise verdict confounded expectations of a historic first graft conviction for an African leader by the courts in his own country – a move that would have reverberated throughout the continent.

Mr Chiluba, a former bus conductor and trade union leader who served two terms in office between 1991 and 2002, had been accused of stealing $500,000 (£300,000) in public funds.

His acquittal came in spite of his failure to mount any substantial defence and his refusal to give sworn testimony. Questions were already being asked over the handling of the case, which has taken six years to reach a conclusion.

Reading his six-hour judgment in the capital, Lusaka, the magistrate Jones Chinyama said: "We are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the prosecution failed to prove that the accused stole funds."

Analysts say that the unexpected ruling will further undermine efforts to check rampant corruption through the courts in Africa. Recent efforts to pursue powerful political figures in South Africa and Kenya on graft charges have collapsed amid claims of interference with the judicial system. These setbacks could see campaigners turn to the International Criminal Court in The Hague which has so far concentrated on human rights abuses.

Mr Chiluba refused to recognise the court's authority and concentrated on mounting a publicity campaign portraying himself as the victim of a political witch-hunt by his successor Levy Mwanawasa with the backing of the "racist" British Government. Playing to the television cameras in court and flaunting his legendary, expensive wardrobe, the 66-year-old politician has sought to exploit his enduring popularity among poorer Zambians.

"Those who thought I am a thief should know now that that I am innocent," he told a press conference after the verdict. "As a Christian nation we do not steal but the devil will accuse you of stealing."

Prosecutors had chosen to pursue only a fraction of the monies alleged to have been looted by Mr Chiluba, which a UK court in 2007 estimated at more than $57m, in order to keep the case watertight. The former president's wife, Regina, was convicted in March by a Zambian court of receiving stolen goods but was freed pending her appeal and was in court with her husband to witness the acquittal.

Hopes of a conviction had been high, following the 2007 civil action, brought by Zambia's attorney general in Britain. The judge in that case had concluded that Mr Chiluba's official earnings after a decade in office amounted to $100,000 and yet, during the same period, he had spent five times that amount in a single shop, Boutique Basile, an exclusive outfitters in Geneva.

Investigators uncovered an extraordinary decade of spending while in office that saw the notoriously vain politician amass hundreds of designer outfits. The prosecution, led by Michael Sullivan QC, described accounts in several countries, including the UK, Switzerland and the Caribbean, that had been used to cover the president's lavish spending under the pretence of financing overseas intelligence operations.

Mr Justice Smith said in his ruling that Mr Chiluba should be "ashamed of himself" and ordered him to repay $57m in stolen monies. The judge remarked that "the president (unlike the emperor) needs to be clothed".

Mr Chiluba's lawyers are now challenging efforts to have the UK verdict registered in Zambia, which could freeze more of his assets including a valuable pension fund. A decision on the issue is due from Zambia's Supreme Court.

Resource-rich Zambia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Its copper-dependent economy is subject to violent swings in commodity prices and 80 per cent of its 12 million people live on less than $1 a day.

Mr Chiluba's political career is typical of the failures of leadership that have blighted post-independence Africa. He rose from a lowly station as a bus driver through the ranks of the national builders' union to head of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions. He then formed a new political party and in 1991 successfully challenged independence leader Kenneth Kaunda who had been in office since 1964.

Hailed as one of a new breed of African renaissance leaders, Mr Chiluba quickly disappointed reformists as he dispensed with independent voices in cabinet and surrounded himself with cronies. Corruption became a way of life, leading one Zambian commentator to remark that, while Kaunda's people had been pickpockets, Chiluba's lot were thieves.

The former democratic champion was forced to stand down after efforts to change the constitution in order to run for a third term were thwarted by an uprising in his own party.

His attempt to handpick a replacement saw him anoint his vice president, Levy Mwanawasa, but the protégé was disgusted by the extent of the looting he found and set up an anti-corruption panel to pursue the chief culprits. Those efforts delivered a number of high profile scalps prior to Mr Mwanawasa's death last year following a stroke.

The new President, Rupiah Banda, promoted from vice president and elected to see out the remainder of Mr Mwanawasa's term, has been accused of going back on anti-corruption efforts.

Well-heeled: Chiluba's shoe fetish

*Fresh from his court victory, Zambia's former president may now choose to reclaim some of the remarkable store of possessions that has been gathering dust in the offices of the country's anti-corruption task force during the six-year legal battle.

The contents of a collection of metal trunks bear witness to Frederick Chiluba's incredible sartorial extravagance: small mountains of silk dressing gowns and pyjamas, monogrammed dress shirts and tailored suits, many from the same Geneva store, whose owner Antonia Basile remembers payment sometimes arriving in suitcases stuffed with cash.

Pride of place must go to the more than 100 pairs of custom-made, size 6 shoes, each with heels stacked two inches high to disguise Mr Chiluba's five-foot frame. Many of the pairs have been embossed in brass with his initials. The collection is reported to include lizard skin dyed to the colour of jade, cream coloured ostrich-skin slip-ons and red silk slippers.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone