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Malawi Court Frees Preacher Bushiri After Deeming His Arrest Illegal

Malawian preacher Shepherd Bushiri waves at supporters as he leaves the Lilongwe Magistrate court, in Lilongwe, Malawi, Nov. 19, 2020.
Malawian preacher Shepherd Bushiri waves at supporters as he leaves the Lilongwe Magistrate court, in Lilongwe, Malawi, Nov. 19, 2020.

A court in Malawi has freed a self-proclaimed prophet wanted in South Africa for theft, money laundering, and fraud. The court released Shepherd Bushiri and his wife, calling their arrest illegal because it did not pass through the Minister of Homeland Security.

Malawian police arrested Bushiri and his wife, Mary, on Wednesday in the capital Lilongwe in response to an arrest warrant issued by the international police organization Interpol.

In South Africa, the Bushiris and two others are charged with stealing $6.6 million through theft, money laundering and fraud. They also absconded on bail conditions which restricted them from traveling outside the country.

During a bail application hearing Thursday in Lilongwe, state lawyer Steve Kayuni said the couple should remain in custody for 30 days as Malawi’s government awaits a formal extradition request from South African government.

But defense lawyer Wapona Kita said Bushiri’s arrest was illegal because authorities did not follow a procedure which requires a warrant of arrest to pass through the Minister of Homeland Security before police can execute an arrest.

Chief Resident Magistrate Viva Nyimba agreed with Kita’s argument and freed the couple without conditions.

Bushiri spoke with reporters outside the court.

“This is not a victory of me. It’s not a victory of my lawyers. It’s a victory of God; may all glory and praise go to God. We believe justice is about to prevail,” he said.

Ronald Lamola, the minister of justice and correctional services in South Africa,
told a South African TV station Thursday that he had no problem with Bushiri’s release if Malawi flouted its internal procedures for handling Interpol arrest warrants.

But he added that South Africa will send a formal extradition request to Malawi in two weeks to have the Bushiris extradited.

In the meantime, the South African court has seized Bushiri’s residence for violating his bail conditions.

Bushiri says he is not worried, saying his life is more important than his assets. He earlier said he fled to Malawi because some people wanted to kill him in South Africa. He did not say why.

However, analysts fear Bushiri’s release risks souring relations with South Africa, if not handled properly.

Vincent Kondowe, a former political science lecturer at Catholic University in Malawi, said this is the beginning of a criminal process leading to the extradition of 'prophet' Shepherd Bushiri. "So, for me, this should be based on application of the applicable laws in Malawi on how to treat a fugitive,” he said.

In the meantime, state lawyers say they will appeal hoping to reverse the couple’s unconditional release.