M. Continuo

Zambia president suspends chief prosecutor to face probe over graft accusations

By Chris Mfula

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia's new President Edgar Lungu has suspended the chief prosecutor and set up a tribunal to investigate him for alleged misconduct, the presidency said, reviving a case that had been thrown out by the courts.

Zambia's High Court in February stopped the arrest of Mutembo Nchito over accusations of graft, saying the lower court which issued the warrant had no authority to hear the case.

A private citizen had accused Nchito of forgery and other crimes alleged to have been committed between 2008 and August 2013.

The presidency said in a statement on Tuesday that Lungu had appointed a four-member tribunal to look into the alleged misconduct and alleged acts of impropriety by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

"The Tribunal has also been tasked to, and among other things, recommend whether the DPP ought to be removed from office as a result of these allegations," the presidency said, adding that Nchito was suspended to facilitate the probe.

Nchito was not immediately available for comment.

However, in a letter to the International Association of Prosecutors obtained by Reuters following his arrest in February, Nchito said Lungu tried to hound him out of office.

Nchito, who was appointed to the post in 2011, said in the letter that Lungu sent an emissary asking him to resign.

"The message was to the effect that the president wanted me to resign or face an acrimonious removal process," Nchito said in the letter.

The president's office denied Nchito's claims.

"The president has never sent anybody to meet Mr Nchito. Contrary to his claims it is Mr Nchito who has been asking to meet the president but he (president) has refused. The president has received numerous complaints from different members of the public against Mr Nchito," presidential spokesman Amos Chanda told Reuters.

It was not clear when the tribunal to investigate Nchito would start its work, or when it was due to issue its report.

Lungu, who was due to travel to South Africa for medical tests after falling ill over the weekend, took the helm of Africa's second-largest copper producer in January following an election to replace former leader Michael Sata, who died in October aged 77 while undergoing treatment in London.

(Editing by James Macharia)