LILONGWE, Malawi – Fraud accused and self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary were released from custody in Malawi on Thursday, Malawi media reported.
The couple appeared before Magistrate Viva Nyimba in the Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court after their arrest on Wednesday on an Interpol warrant of arrest.
Nyimba ruled that the Bushiris should be released without bail because their arrest in Malawi was illegal, adding that the court had looked only at the legality of their arrest and not at what had happened in South Africa.
Rainbow Television reported that Nyimba deemed the arrest illegal since the warrant had not been channelled through the Ministry of Homeland Security.
The television station further reported that the State had argued that the offences the couple face were not within the borders of Malawi.
They requested that the court put them on remand for 30 days while awaiting the South African government’s formal request for extradition.
The couple handed themselves over to the police in Lilongwe on Wednesday morning after a warrant for their arrest was effected in South Africa on Tuesday.
They had left South Africa in mysterious circumstance and fled to their home country, Malawi, claiming they feared for their safety.
The couple are facing charges of theft, money laundering and fraud relating to an investment scheme in South Africa.
They had been released on R200 000 each by the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on November 4 following their arrest in October.
As part of their bail conditions, they were only allowed to travel within Gauteng and North West until the case was finalised. The couple own a hotel in Rustenburg, North West.
Their bail was revoked and a warrant of arrest was issued.
The self-proclaimed prophet said he strongly believed in the constitution of Malawi to protect every citizen, including him and his wife, which was why they had fled to Malawi.
Daily newspaper The Nation reported online that Bushiri said he didn’t care if his property was seized in South Africa, because his life was more important than property.
Meanwhile, South African Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said on Thursday the extradition of self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary has been initiated.
Lamola said the extradition was done on the basis of SA Development Community protocol and a bilateral treaty with Malawi.
“Malawi authorities have thus far displayed a high level of co-operation,” Lamola told the media at a post-cabinet briefing.
The Bushiris fled to Malawi while out on a bail of R200 000 each after being charged on fraud and money-laundering.
Lamola said a warrant of arrest was obtained by the Hawks on Monday and a copy has been sent to Interpol.
“The request to activate a red notice on Interpol was submitted by the Hawks on November 17,” he said.
Lamola also said the request for the provisional arrest of the Bushuris has been submitted to Lilongwe and has been executed.
“This request has been made in terms of Article 10 of the SADC protocol which requires the requesting state for extradition to submit to authorities within 30 days and after the arrest of the fugitive a formal extradition request must be made.”
Aside from seeing media reports on the arrest of the Bushiris in Malawi, it has also been communicated to South Africa as fact.
Lamola said the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks were currently compiling the formal extradition request.
“We have given them the time of two weeks to do it,” he said.
“This is a meticulous legal process which we have given space to the NPA to submit to us as a central authority for forward transmision to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and then it will be sent through diplomatic channels to Lilongwe,” Lamola said.
He indicated that the extradition treaty with Malawi provided justice departments of the two countries’s engagement on the matter.
“It may take some time but from our view and information at our disposal we are convinced that the Bushiris will come back to South Africa to stand trial.
“They are guaranteed fair trial. Our processes have been tested over time,” he said.
One of the reasons given by Bushiri for fleeing the country was fear of not receiving a fair trial.
But, Lamola said, the guarantee to a fair trial was not in dispute in a judicial system which has proven to be resilient, fair, free and without influence from anyone.
“There can not be a claim of an unfair trial. That one is clear from the constitutional prescripts.”
He insisted that there was no evidence South Africa sought to treat any accused person unfairly.
“The Bushiris will not be an exception so they will definitely come back. The South Afrcian government is going to do everything in its powers to ensure they are returned to this country to face trial,” Lamola said.
The minister also said they understood the urgency of the matter amid a lot of speculation how the Bushiris fled the country.
“As the government we can’t speculate. We would want to give a report when there is an investigation that points with certainty how and when they left the country,” he said.
“In due course, we will be able to tell this to the country. I want to assure South Africans that we do understand the urgency, accountability and explanation in terms of how they left the country,” Lamola said.
He also said the cabinet had been briefed at its Wednesday meeting about the issue of the Bushiris.
“Cabinet was satisfied with the manner in which the justice, crime prevention and security cluster has handled the matter, and the cluster will update the public on developments regarding this matter.”