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Zambia ex-leader on theft charges

Chiluba: Many of his officials are also facing corruption charges.
Chiluba: Many of his officials are also facing corruption charges.

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LUSAKA, Zambia (Reuters) -- Former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba has been charged with stealing millions of dollars in public funds, part of a widening anti-corruption campaign launched by his chosen successor.

Chiluba appeared before Lusaka magistrate Christopher Shachifwa to face 59 counts of corruption allegedly committed during a 10-year-long rule that began in 1991, when he was hailed as a hero for ousting founding President Kenneth Kaunda.

"He is facing 59 counts of theft by public servant involving billions of kwacha (millions of dollars)," said lead prosecutor John Katongo.

Chiluba, 59, made a 30-minute court appearance.

Shachifwa ordered Chiluba's passport seized to prevent him leaving the country, but freed the ex-president on bail of 1.5 billion kwacha ($297,000).

The theft counts were contained in three indictments brought by the police Anti-Corruption Commission. They came only hours after police hauled Chiluba in for a second round of questioning.

The Anti-Corruption Task Force questioned Chiluba for nine hours Thursday over allegations he directed or authorized dubious payments from state coffers that cost the southern African country millions of dollars.

Chiluba has denied any wrongdoing.

Chiluba was brought to court in a police four-wheel-drive vehicle amid heavy security. He said nothing to reporters and appeared grim-faced and uneasy throughout the hearing, folding and unfolding his arms across his chest.

Many former officials in his government are facing corruption charges driven by Zambia's biggest anti-corruption drive since independence from Britain in 1964.

The accusations against Chiluba were made by his chosen successor, President Levy Mwanawasa, last year.

The move against Chiluba had been expected after the Supreme Court last week unanimously decided not to reinstate his immunity from prosecution, which was lifted by parliament last year at Mwanawasa's request.

Mwanawasa, first seen as a Chiluba puppet, has targeted Chiluba and his former aides in the anti-corruption drive.

Chiluba, who stepped down as president in December 2001, has been under virtual house arrest since July.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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