Former Labour Minister Austin Liato has been acquitted by the Lusaka High Court in a case in which he was charged for being in possession of property suspected to be proceeds of crime.
The court has also ordered that his Mwembeshi farm and the K2.1million which were confiscated from him be given back to him.
This is a case in which Liato who is also former Kaoma Member of Parliament appealed against his two year jail term that was slapped on him by the Lusaka magistrate court for being in possession of the K2.1million which was found buried at his farm.
Particulars of the offence alleged that on November 24 2011 in Lusaka, Liato did possess and conceal money at his farm no L/Mpamba/44 Mwembeshi amounting to K2.1million reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime.
The judgment was delivered by three high court judges who included high court Judge Mwinde Siavwapa, High Court Judge Chalwe Mchenga and High Court Judge Annie Sharpe Phiri.
In delivering judgement on behalf of the other two high court judges, High Court Judge Mwiinde Siavwanga said the particulars of the offence were defective for duplicity because it was alleged that in the same count, the appellant who is Liato did possess and concealed the money.
Judge Siavwanga said Liato was only correctly charged for being in possession of money and not concealing it despite the money being hidden in the ground at his farm.
Judge Siavwapa said the prosecution was supposed to prove that the money that the appellant was found with was reasonably suspected proceeds of crime despite that he was in possession of the money because it was found buried at his farm.
He said failure by the appellant to render an explanation of the origin of the money cannot be basis for inferring that the money was proceeds of crime.
He further said the prosecution should have proved with reasonable suspicion that the money was proceeds of crime if they linked its source or the accused to possible criminal conduct.
Judge Siavwanga said the trial court came to the conclusion that the money was proceeds of crime because it was found buried at the farm but that the higher court found that it was unusual that it was not mandatory for a person to always keep money in a bank saying people anywhere in the world can keep money lawfully earned in a home or in any manner they desired.
He further said Liato’s personal and business bank accounts were inspected but could not tell the level of economic activity in those accounts because the statements of accounts were not presented to the court.
He said there was also evidence that Liato was also paid gratuity from National Assembly although the amounts were not disclosed to the court.
“In the absence of evidence of the appellant not having the capacity to earn the amount he was found with, we do not think it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that it was proceeds of crime because it was buried at his farm than putting it in a bank account, he said.
The high court hence ordered for the farm and the money to be restored to Liato at the expiry of the period which is prescribed for lodging of an appeal if no appeal is lodged.
And speaking after he was acquitted, Liato described his attending of the court sessions as being a tough experience but thanked the Judicial system for the outcome of his appeal case .