, LUSAKA, Dec 7 – Zambia\’s high court on Tuesday overturned the conviction of former president Frederick Chiluba\’s wife on charges of receiving property believed to have been stolen while her husband was in office.
Regina Chiluba was sentenced in March 2009 to three-and-a-half years in prison after a lower court found her guilty on five counts of failing to account for properties and money at the centre of investigations into corruption during her husband\’s 1991 to 2002 presidency.
"There is no proof that the goods and money were obtained illegally and we therefore quashed the conviction on all counts and acquit the appellant on all the charges," said High Court Judge Evans Hamaundu.
The former first lady was accused of failing to account for 188,000 dollars (141,000 euros) in property suspected to have been stolen or unlawfully obtained, failing to account for a car and receiving a Toshiba 61-inch colour TV suspected to have been stolen.
Accompanied in court by her husband, she shed tears as Hamaundu read out the judgment.
Frederick Chiluba, a former trade unionist, came under fire after leaving office for his lavish spending on tailor-made suits and flashy shoes.
In 2007, a British civil court found that he and his associates had stolen 46 million dollars in public funds during his presidency.
But Zambia\’s high court ruled in August that the judgement could not be registered in Zambia.
A Zambian court last year acquitted Chiluba of abuse of 500,000 dollars in public funds.
The Zambian chapter of watchdog group Transparency International on Tuesday criticised the overturning of the former first lady\’s sentence and questioned the government\’s commitment to fighting corruption.
"This has not come as a surprise considering that (Frederick) Chiluba himself was acquitted," the group\’s president, Reuben Lifuta, told AFP.
"We are left wondering as to whether there is political will in fighting corruption by this government."