By Duncan Mlanjira
Tamando Chokotho, lawyer who represented Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in the Constitutional Court Case of 2019 during the disputed election case, has reported to Malawi Law Society (MLS) that he is receiving intimidation threats and attempts to wrongfully influence him to abuse his duties as regards to subsequent developments in the case.
Written on September 17, Chokotho said after receiving orders on August 10 and 12 from the High Court Registrar’s office on assessment of costs related to the election case with instructions to seek review of the costs, he was then communicated to that he should ignore the review process and proceed to pay.
Chokotho alleges that this communication was from lawyer Khumbo Bonzoe Soko through a text message sent on August 27 between 19:42hrs and 21:23hrs that read: “Ankolo…perekani dollar izizi za ma review izi ticedwa nazo” (uncle, pay the money. We will just waste time with this review process).
Chokotho claims he ignored the message and proceeded to file the review application in accordance with the instructions from MEC, his client.
He then alleges that on September 8 at around 18:00hrs, he received a call from another lawyer, Marshal Chilenga, who also asked him to drop the review proceedings and just pay.
He said when he enquired from Chilenga if his client was then willing to enter a compromise, Chilenga is alleged to have declined.
“He then started making threats saying that he will have the Commissioners pay costs on review personally,” says the report to MLS president, copied to the Chief Justice, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Blantyre Police Station and MEC.
“I told him that was not possible as the Supreme Court had not directed that the Commissioners should bear the costs personally [and that] the Reigistrar would not have powers to make an order contrary to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I was shocked when Counsel Chilenga started raising his voice at me and said that the Commissioners would pay costs personally if they keep on bringing ‘stupid’ and ‘useless’ applications.
“The language used lacked professional courtesy and the tone was of a raised voice which prompted me to tell Counsel Chilenga that I would not take kindly to threats.
“I firmly asked him to do his part properly while I do mine. While he denied threatening me, he continued to do so until we cut the line.”
Chokotho further said the hearing of the review went ahead on September 15 at the High Court in Lilongwe and the matter was adjourned on account that he was only served with some voluminous documents the previous day.
“However, the Registrar ruled favourably on one of the applications that I had made for the parties to bring their solicitor-own-client bills for assessment by the court.”
Chokotho then alleges that he received another call from Chilenga on September 17 around 12:49hrs, who first asked him what he thought of the ruling requiring the submission of solicitor-own-client bills of costs.
“I explained that the ruling is in line with the principle of indemnity which guides costs and that I am happy to submit my fee note.
“Counsel Chilenga then snapped at me and said that I am wrong and has always been wrong. I responded that it is for the precise reason that we are not agreeing that we will go to court to determine who is right.”
“However, Counsel Chilenga then said, ‘we feel that the decision of the Supreme Court was wrong. We should somehow find a way to get out of it. We can’t be reviewing the decision of the Court now but it is wrong’.”
Chokotho claims that he told Chilenga that he would comply with the court order and at this point, he alleges that Chilenga is said to have threatened him that if he proceeded with being uncooperative “there would be consequences”.
“He said that he had been sent to warn me. At first I laughed off the threat and I was shocked when Counsel Chilenga then started raising his voice and kept repeating that he had been sent to warn me and he emphasized on the fact that he had been sent.
“Despite asking him who exactly had sent him to warn me, Counsel Chilenga merely said, ‘You have been warned! There will be consequences’. He did not disclose who had sent him to threaten me and what consequences were being threatened.
“Following the telephone conversation with Counsel Chilenga, I feel that there is a threat to my person, property or business as I am not aware with hom Counsel Chilenga has conspired with and what they have conspired to do with me.
“I am of the view that such conduct is unethical and totally unacceptable,” said Chokotho in the report.
He added that he has copied the letter to the Chief Justice as he does not wish to appear as if he wants to influence the decision of the Registrar to whom the letter should have been addressed.
He also says says he copied to the Officer-in-Charge of Blantyre Police and the ACB Director General as he is of the view that as a public officer, by virtue of section 3 of the Corrupt Practises Act, he is under a duty to report any attempt to use one’s influence on him with the aim he should misuse his public office.
“I trust that this matter shall be treated with utmost urgency as the matter is ongoing and I would appreciate if such threats against me are stopped and an enquiry is made to establish who exactly is sending Counsel to make threats against me,” Chokotho concluded.