Court orders DEC to release lawyers’ money in the Shoprite case

The High court has ordered the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) to defreeze the bank accounts of Lewis Nathan Advocates, a local law firm  led by Lewis Mosho.

This is in a matter in which the law firm sued Zambia’s Attorney General and the DEC challenging the action of the DEC to seize their bank accounts.

On December 5, 2011 and January 30, 2012 DEC froze four bank accounts belonging to the law firm. One account has about K1.4 billion and another one around US$10, 000.

DEC froze the accounts as part of their investigations  in a matter where Shoprite South Africa lodged a complaint that 2,220,897 of its shares worth US$10million (K50billion or SAR70milion) where sold on the Lusaka Stock Exchange without the company’s authority or consent from the year 2005- 2011.

According to the complaint, the shares were sold by Lewis Nathan Advocates, a corporate law firm specialised in corporate and stocks affairs.

The matter in court was therefore a judicial review, that is, the court was asked to determine whether DEC acted according to the law.

Making judgment on May 9, 2012, High Court Judge Christine Phiri said that the decision by DEC to seize the accounts was illegal, irrational and procedurally improper.

The court said DEC failed to prove that the money in the accounts was profits of crime but that it was money earned genuinely.

She said the law firm is entitled to damages (monetary compensation from government using tax payer’s money due to DEC irrationality and excitement).

The High Court ordered DEC to withdraw the seizures served on the banks and further ordered that government should pay the law firm the costs incurred while pursuing the matter in court.

Sarcastically, the court observed that :
“I have firstly noted that the applicants have submitted on facts and law extensively whereby the respondents have only argued that they have continued seizing the applicants accounts due the fact that they are investigating the same, however, I have noted that the respondents have not attached any exhibits to their affidavits to show that there are criminal proceedings against the applicants in respect of these accounts, neither have they shown which persons have been arrested and charged in respect of these accounts, I will therefore not depart from my brother’s ruling in the High Court that the accounts seized are clients’ accounts with funds belonging to clients.”

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