Lusaka, Zambia — The lawyer for Zambia’s former President Edgar Lungu has denounced a government takeover of some 20 properties linked to his family, calling it a political witch hunt. Zambia’s current president has been cracking down on corruption, but critics say he is targeting political opponents.
The government officially seized the properties from the Lungu family last week. They include 15 two-story flats, a three-story lodge, a farm and a house. The properties were seized under the 2010 Forfeiture of Proceeds of Crimes Law, which allows the state to seize assets it believes were acquired through illegal means.
Former President Lungu ‘s lawyer, Makebi Zulu, told VOA that neither he nor his clients have been served with notice on any process before any court regarding the asset seizures.
In talking to law enforcement agencies since the investigation began last year, Zulu said his clients have provided sufficient explanation for how they acquired the properties. He said the state is deliberately withholding that information to embarrass Lungu, wife Esther and their children.
“We are confident that we are standing on firm ground. Our clients are innocent of everything that they are alleging,” Zulu said. “As a matter of fact, we are disappointed that they’re not getting down to investigate matters as they ought to.”
In an interview with VOA, Emmanuel Mwamba, a spokesman for Lungu’s Patriotic Front party, accused the government of abusing the law. Mwamba lamented that the properties in question were seized before investigations were finalized.
“The law enforcement agencies are seizing assets of people belonging to the Patriotic Front, to the family of the former president, just as a political witch hunt,” said Mwamba.
The Zambian director of public prosecutions, Gilbert Phiri, has warned that the government will clamp down on corruption until it stops.
“That the wheels of recovering assets may appear grind slowly, but they will grind anyway. We are not oblivious to attacks and maneuvers to derail the fight against crime and asset recovery,” Phiri said. “The posture we take is to talk softly but always carry a very big stick.”
Boniface Cheembe is executive director of the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, a human rights NGO. He says while the current government campaigned on its anti-corruption agenda, he hopes prosecutors will not be one-sided.
“We hope they do not divide the country further or at least it will not be seen as a continued wage of war against the incumbent president and the former president,” said Cheembe. “Institutions be allowed to play their role and that once everything has been done, that justice prevails.”
Critics of President Hakainde Hichilema (hah-kah-IHN-deh hee-chee-LAY-mah) say while his government has instituted arrests and investigations into alleged corrupt activities by leaders of the previous regime, they have not secured any convictions.
The president insists that the fight against corruption is not meant to victimize his political opponents.