The justice and correctional services department has clarified the “misinterpreted” Malawi high court judgment on its application to extradite Shepherd Bushiri to SA to stand trial.
The department said no witnesses would have to go to Malawi to testify and the court was only asking state and law enforcement officials to testify in the extradition hearing on a set list of questions in relation to the hearing.
Bushiri, leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church, and his family fled SA in 2020 for his home country after being released on R200,000 bail.
He and his wife Mary face charges of money laundering and fraud in connection with a multimillion-rand investment scheme. A warrant for his arrest and extradition request was filed in SA.
This week Bushiri, real name Chipiliro Gama, successfully appealed a previous Lilongwe court ruling that permitted virtual testimony “where there are satisfactory grounds”, with the high court ordering South African witnesses to appear in court in person.
Taking to social media platforms after the ruling, Bushiri hailed this as a “milestone victory for us”.
“The high court in Malawi has ruled that witnesses, to be specific, those who arrested us and recorded cases against us [investigators], be physically present in Malawi for crossexamination by our lawyers.”
The department on Wednesday said it had studied the judgment and noted it “has been misinterpreted in some quarters”.
“We believe the judgment speaks for itself [and] clarifies that an extradition hearing is not a trial,” it said.
“The judgment also resolves the question of what type of witnesses are required for the extradition hearing as follows: ‘Witnesses to a preliminary inquiry/extradition hearing are representatives/agents of the requesting state who will be able to answer questions and be cross-examined by the fugitive on the issues.”
The department said the ruling also clarified the “protection of the sexual offences witnesses from being exposed to trauma and embarrassment when they come to Malawi does not arise. They will not come to Malawi, nor will other witnesses at the impending trial.”
The department welcomed the judgment and “stands ready to comply”.
“Our co-operation and relationship with government institutions in Malawi responsible for mutual legal assistance and extradition, namely the central authority and prosecution authority, remain in effect.