Dar es Salaam. Controller and Auditor General (CAG) Charles Kichere has proposed the formation of an independent commission to investigate violations of ethics and abuse of public offices in the process of plea-bargaining and forfeitures of properties of accused people.
Mr Kichere made the proposal on Wednesday while presenting auditing reports for the financial year 2021/2022 to President Samia Suluhu Hassan during a function at the State House in Dar es Salaam.
He said his audits found several irregularities in the implementation of the exercise and in the exercise that involved the forfeitures of properties of people accused of committing different crimes.
For example, he found that a total of Sh6.1 billion of money collected through forfeitures were wrongly deposited to the account created for money collected through plea-bargaining instead of forfeitures accounts.
CAG Kichere also found that a total of Sh1.3 billion forfeited was deposited to the treasury without passing through forfeitures accounts.
He also found no cash book on forfeited properties. Also, no receipts were provided for forfeited money as part of the confirmation of reception. Mr Kichere also found no evidence of the handover of forfeited properties at the Ministry of Finance and Planning.
“There are also complaints from victims [of the plea-bargaining arrangment] that they were unjustly treated throughout the entire exercise,” Mr Kichere said. “Our special audit also found there was no discussion between the prosecutor’s office and the accused.”
“There was also no official arrangement on the appointment of a team to lead the discussion from the side of the National Prosecution Services,” he added.
“Madam President, other issues are being taken care of by security organs,” Mr Kichere pleaded. “But, if it interests you, an independent commission should be formed to investigate the possibility of the violations of ethics and abuse of public offices in the process of plea-bargaining and forfeitures of the accused’s properties.”
On October 13, 2022, CAG Kichere told The Chanzo that his office was investigating the money collected through the plea bargaining arrangement, saying the exercise was part of his office’s mandate.
It followed reports that the office of the CAG was carrying out an investigation into the controversial arrangement implemented by the previous administration under the late President John Magufuli, with the victims of the practice reporting to have taken part in the ongoing investigation.
“So, yes, we are carrying out this investigation,” Mr Kichere said. “The reason why we are doing it is that it is part of our mandate as the office of the CAG. And we will release the report in March 2023 together with other reports just like how we do it yearly.”
In 2019, the parliament amended several of Tanzania’s criminal laws, introducing, among other things, the plea bargaining arrangement, defined as a negotiation in a criminal case between a prosecutor and the accused.
But the arrangement was operational two years earlier, even before the amendments were passed.
Even when the arrangement was legally introduced, it went into enforcement without having regulations, an essential step for operation. Regulations were introduced in February 2021.
Many people charged with non-bailable offences like money laundering and economic sabotage were allegedly coerced into filing a plea bargaining request with the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), where they were made to pay millions to secure their freedom.
For instance, in its 2021 Human Rights Report, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) identified several key concerns it observed in implementing the plea bargaining arrangement.
These, among other concerns, include coercion of accused persons; misuse of power due to the leverage enjoyed by the prosecutor; reduction of the role and influence of magistrates and judges; and the risk of accused persons pleading guilty for crimes they did not commit, so that they can taste freedom again.
While inaugurating the commission she formed to investigate state organs responsible for dispensing criminal justice in Tanzania on January 31, 2023, President Samia criticised the National Prosecutions Services for the way it handled the issue of plea-bargaining, saying a lot has been going on” there concerning the arrangement.
“Some of the money collected under the plea-bargaining arrangement has been found while others have not been found,” Samia said.
“If you ask, you’re being told that [a bank] account has been opened in China [to keep the money]. So, the commission will have to go and look into it too,” the Head of State added.