By Werner Menges
A Congolese refugee who is facing a charge of dealing in or possessing dozens of elephant tusks will have to await the conclusion of his trial in custody, after his appeal against a magistrate’s decision not to grant him bail was dismissed in the Windhoek High Court on Friday last week.
In his view, said Acting Judge Petrus Unengu in the judgement in which he dismissed Congolese national Naweji Muteba’s appeal, the magistrate who turned down Muteba’s application to be granted bail did not make a wrong decision and there was no reason for the High Court to interfere with her ruling.
Muteba, who hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, appealed to the High Court against the ruling in which his bail application was refused in the Katima Mulilo Magistrate’s Court in June last year.
He was arrested in March last year after the police had found 34 elephant tusks at a house in a village in the Zambezi Region. A Namibian citizen, Corinthians Kabuku, was also arrested and is facing the same charge as Muteba. Kabuku has been granted bail of N$30 000.
The two men are due to make their latest appearance in the Katima Mulilo Regional Court today.
During Muteba’s bail hearing a police officer testified that the ivory was found after the police had received information that a Namibian man was keeping elephant tusks at his house.
The officer testified that according to Muteba and Kabuku 20 of the tusks found in possession of Kabuku actually belonged to a man named Titus, who is also a Congolese national, while eight of the tusks belonged to Muteba and a Zambian man living in Lusaka was the owner of the other tusks.
Muteba told the magistrate that he came to Namibia as an asylum seeker, married a Namibian woman in a traditional ceremony in 2009, and has one child with his wife. He said he had been making a living buying fish at Katima Mulilo and selling it at Okahandja, where his wife lives, and at the Osire refugee camp.
He said he had no intention to return to the DRC, and that he considered Namibia to be his permanent place of residence.
In her ruling the magistrate correctly took into account that because Muteba is a foreign national there could be a risk that he would flee if he was released on bail, considering the seriousness of the charge he is facing and the serious punishment that might be imposed if he is convicted, Acting Judge Unengu said in his judgement.
The judge added that he found nothing wrong with the magistrate’s finding that it would not be in the public interest or the interest of the administration of justice to grant Muteba bail.