Malawi's vice president granted bail on treason charge

A judge ordered Malawi's vice president released on bail Monday on treason charges for allegedly plotting to assassinate President Bingu wa Mutharika.

But Judge Charles Mkandawire ordered Cassim Chilumpha confined to his official residence and prohibited him from leaving the house without presidential permission until the conclusion of the trial.

The judge also granted bail to two alleged accomplices, businessman Yusuf Mtumula and Rashid Tembo.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Henry Phoya said the three men, arrested April 28, were being behind a plot to hire a South African hitman to kill the president. He said in a statement that the government had audio tapes "detailing the assassination plot."

Mkandawire ordered the vice president released on US$2,000 (Ђ1,560) bail and ordered him to surrender his travel documents. He also restricted the vice president to the use of one cell phone and gave the state permission to monitor his calls.

The judge limited visitors to the vice president's home to family members, physicians, spiritual advisers and defense lawyers.

Chilumpha told reporters he was being persecuted because he refused to join the Democratic Progressive Party, which the president founded after quitting the former governing United Democratic Front party.

President Mutharika tried to sack Chilumpha earlier this year, saying he was being disrespectful and was missing Cabinet and government meetings. But the dismissal was overturned by the court, which said the president had no constitutional powers to sack his deputy.

Relations between Malawi's two most senior officials have been frosty since Mutharika quit the ruling UDF party, which had sponsored and campaigned for his victory in the hotly contested May 2004 elections, reports AP.

O.Ch.