DLA Piper wins Zambia corruption case

DLA Piper has landed a major victory for the Zambian Government today (4 May) as the high court held that the country’s former president Frederick Chiluba and four of his senior aides conspired to rob their government and people of $46m (£23m).

The four-month long case which has been said to be of major importance for the fight against corruption in Africa, Mr Justice Peter Smith held that Chiluba took part in two separate conspiracies to siphon off the money.

Chiluba laundered the money through two London law firms, Meer Care & Desai and Cave Malik & Co, who were part of the conspiracy.

These firms involvement, however, meant that the case could be brought in London as it was considered to be the centre of wrongdoing with the stolen money passed through bank accounts in London.

Smith J said Chiluba, president between 1991 and 2001, had a reputation as a “smart and expensive dresser”.

He officially earned about £52,500 over a decade but an exclusive shop in Switzerland – Boutique Basile – received $500,000 (£250,000), all stolen from the Republic of Zambia.

His lavish spending included 206 suits, 349, mostly monogrammed, shirts, and 72 pairs of shoes, all with extra high heels.

“This was at a time when the vast majority of Zambians were struggling to live on one dollar a day and many could not afford more than one meal a day,” the judge said. “FJT [Chiluba] had the benefit of this largesse at the expense of the people of Zambia. He still wears some of the clothes.

“The people of Zambia will know that whenever FJT appears in public wearing a smart handmade suit or a pair of his ‘signature’ shoes that they were acquired by stealing money from the people, the vast majority of whom live at subsistence levels.”

The ruling found that Chibula received over £500,000 for clothes, while another £181,000 was taken by aides to pay school fees, buy motorbikes and more than £6,000 worth of beauty therapy courses.

Janet Legrand, of global law firm DLA Piper, which acted for the Zambian government, said the judgment was a “resounding victory” for President Levy Mwanawasa’s battle to stamp out corruption.

Other defendants found liable include Xavier Chungu, former head of Zambian secret intelligence services, Stella Chibanda, a former senior official in the Ministry of Finance, and two financial advisers and directors of Access Financial Services Ltd – Faustin Kabwe and Aaron Chungu.

Smith J also held that the Swiss tailors, Basile, were liable for £600,000 for conspiracy and dishonest assistance.

Legrand instructed William Blair QC of 3 Verulam Buildings as lead counsel for the Zambian Government.

Litigation partner Alexander Ulm from Reynolds Porter Chamberlain acted for the first defendant Iqbal Meer, senior partner of Meer Care & Desai.

Ian Croxford QC of Wilberforce Chambers and Justin Fenwick QC of Four New Square, instructed by partner Richard Harrison from Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, led for two of the defendants.

Other counsel that have been involved during the case include Michael Sullivan of One Essex Court, Chima Umezuruike of 2 Gray’s Inn Square and Anothony Trace QC of Maitland Chambers.