A WITNESS has testified that former Labour minister Austin Liato and his relatives allegedly threatened to kill his three farm workers after suspecting them of having informed police about the K2.1 billion found buried at his farm in Mwembeshi area.
And in cross examination, defence counsel Nelly Mutti suggested to the witness that Liato had called him and the others, thieves because they had allegedly stolen K600 million from the trunks saying the money was supposed to be K2.7 billion and not the K2.1billion declared by the police.
But the witness Paul Kakombe denied the allegations and insisted that he was with the police and after counting the money which was found to be K2.1billion.
Meanwhile, Liato’s trial was yesterday characterised by heavy security called in to seal-off the court premises as the two trunks carrying the K2.1 billion dug-out from the former Kaoma Central Member of Parliament’s farm were being brought in as exhibits.
Liato is facing one count of being in possession of property suspected of being proceeds of crime contrary to section 71 (1) of the Forfeiture of Proceeds of Crime Act number 19 of 2010 of the Laws of Zambia.
Particulars of the offence allege that Liato, 47, did possess and conceal money at his farm, Mwembeshi Farm number L Mpamba 144, amounting to K2.1 billion reasonably and suspected of being proceeds of crime.
Mr Kakombe, 36, of Kaoma told Principal Resident Magistrate, Aridah Chulu, that Liato returned home two days after police dug out the K2.1 billion at his farm and bundled all the three workers in his Pajero vehicle and drove to an unknown destination while threatening to kill them or make them mad.
The witness said Liato who was in the company of his two brothers Kawewe and Peter later drove to their sister’s house, a Mrs Naminano where one of his friends was allegedly beaten by Liato when he attempted to explain to his relatives that they were not the ones who informed the police.
“He called us liars, thieves and betrayers while threatening to kill us but we challenged him and his relatives to first go and kill President Michael Sata and the police because the police had told us that they were sent by the President to search his farm,” he said.
Mr Kakombe told the court that he was among the people that assisted in digging out the two trunks that were buried under a thick concrete burglar-barred chalet with security alarm systems.
He said he and his friends were shocked to see the two trunks containing huge sums of money while their wives fainted upon seeing that kind of money.
The witness said he was with the police from the time they managed to dig-out the trunks until they broke the two safes with one containing K1 billion and the second carrying K1.1 billion.
He said they later drove to police headquarters together with the police.
Mr Kakombe said the police then opened the two trunks in the presence of the two farm workers; himself and Kalu and counted the money together.
Kalu then signed for the money and they were later taken back to the farm.
Mutemwa Mutemwa asked the witness whether Liato had the right to bury the money under ground or whether he was supposed to get permission from anyone on how he should keep his money.
In response, Mr Kakombe said Liato was wrong to bury the money because he was an account holder and was supposed to take it to the bank.
And Magistrate Chulu advised Mr Mutemwa not to take the witness to task citing an Act because he was a lay person and should not expect him to know the State provisions of the Law.
And security officers, some in plain clothes, sealed-off the court premises as early as 08:30 hours to give protection to the money as it was being brought before the court.
The officers accompanied the trunks while clearing on-lookers from the way as they led the trunks into the courtroom.
Scores of onlookers hovered around the court entrance to have a
glimpse of the trunks.
And the presiding Magistrate warned that she would in future, ask the police to clear the court-room if people continued to murmur and pass comments during court sessions.
The court was initially supposed to move to Liato’s farm house but this was rescheduled because of the poor state of the roads following heavy rains in recent days.
Trial continues today.
[Times of Zambia]