Chiluba wants his building back

From the time former president Fredrick Chiluba was acquitted of the charge of stealing $500, 000, a lot of things have happened.

Just tomorrow, Monday, he will be picking up his diplomatic passport which was confiscated seven years ago. Seven years ago, Chiluba’s shoes and suits were grabbed by the Task Force on Corruption. We are told even his bank accounts were either restricted or blocked.

It was also seven years ago that Chiluba lost his Institute for Democracy and Industrial Relations.  The 13,000 square meter office-space stands between Arcades Shopping complex and the University of Zambia foot bridge. It is now complete and houses three banks.

chiluba-fredericThe Watchdog has been told by people close to Chiluba that the former head of State wants his building back.

The former president began building the Institute when he was still in power but by the time he left office after failing to secure a third term in office, the building was still incomplete.

He was forced to abandon the construction after his hand-picked successor Levy Mwanawasa stripped him of his immunity from prosecution. The Task Force moved in restricting activities on his bank accounts. This meant he could not pay suppliers and other people engaged in the actual construction.

On July 15, 2002 a then University of Zambia law student Leemans Nyirenda took Chiluba to court. He was seeking an injunction restraining the Foundation and its directors, whether by themselves, their agents or servants or howsoever otherwise from proceeding with the construction of the institute pending determination of the matter.

He claimed that as tax-paying Zambian citizen, he was seeking the repossession of former president Frederick Chiluba’s Institute on behalf and for the benefit of the people of Zambia.

He had sued the Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba Foundation and its director Louis Chitolo, the National Housing Authority (NHA), former Presidential Housing Initiative (PHI) chairman Richard Sakala and the Attorney General over the unlawful and illegal channeling of funds to the project.

He said that the channeling of funds were “not only unlawful and illegal, but were inhuman and malicious” as the Attorney General failed to provide him and the majority of Zambians with affordable basic needs. He said this had “resulted in Zambians dying from hunger, disease and poverty and in the growth to uncontrollable levels of street kids and street adults due to massive unemployment”.

He contended that the Attorney General failed or neglected to repossess the property when it was clear that public funds were used to build the property and that the Attorney General failed to stop construction of the said property.

In the murky of this confusion, construction work was stalled. Chiluba had no access to his money because the Task Force was investigating him and therefore his accounts restricted.

But the building suppliers were not interested in Chiluba’s problems. They were in business. They went to court.

So, 14 companies took Chiluba to court, claiming more than $2-million in unpaid bills. The High Court ordered Chiluba to pay after he lost the case. The High Court ordered that the Institute, which was almost complete be sold to pay the bills.

Chiluba refused and instead appealed to the Supreme Court saying that most companies claiming payments had not supplied any materials. He also said that there had not been any proper verification of the figures which he said were either inflated or false.

But the Supreme Court told Chiluba that “It will be injustice if the institute is not sold to recover the monies to pay debts.”

Supreme Court Justice Peter Chitengi sitting with Dennis Chirwa read out the decision of the court.
The building was sold in 2005 to Handman’s Paradise Group of Companies (HPGC) executive director Micheal Pasquini and a Gillian Campbell. The amount at which the building was sold has never been made public.

In 2007, when Pasquini announced plans to invest US$ 9.5 million to complete the building and develop it into a three-storey building office space, he refused to tell journalists how much he bought the building. He said the purchase price was confidential.

The building is now complete and owned by the two business partners and under a company called LM&C.

The sparkling building has been leased to three new banks that have since started operations.

The banks are FNB of South Africa, Access Bank of Nigeria, and ECO bank of West Africa.

Such is the brief of the complex situation under which Chiluba lost his most valued property whose aim he said was to make researchers understand Chiluba ‘s view of a democratic Zambia.

The question that remains to be answered is what will Chiluba do now? The circumstances under which he lost the property have changed.

Will he go back to the Supreme Court and ask them to do a judicial review of their own decision? Will that amount to abuse of the judicial process or will the court entertain the argument that circumstances have substantially changed from the time the decision was made?

Was it the full bench that heard the case or it was just two justices and will Chiluba demand that the full bench should now hear his case?

What is clear though is that Chiluba wants the restoration of his property, immunity and dignity.

Chiluba now has on his side the head of State, Rupiah Banda and the MMD network which includes the public media and talkative one-man NGOs.

It should be therefore easy for him to succeed.

But will he get the actual building or something else is targeted here?

Those Handman business people, who are their friends in government? What about those West Africa banks headquartered in the buildings, who are their Zambian partners?

Maybe Chiluba will just be compensated using tax payers money. It was government after all which interfered in the construction of this building. How much will government lose if ordered to compensate?

Current Vice president George Kunda was the Attorney-general and minister of justice when all this was happening. What is he thinking now? Is he happy like his boss that the former president has been cleared?

Whatever the case, a huge fight over that building is imminent.

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