The South African government has issued a warrant of arrest for fugitive Malawian cleric Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary.
The move is part of the process to extradite the couple from Malawi so they can answer to charges of fraud, theft and money laundering.
The leaders of Pretoria-based Enlightened Christian Church (ECG) fled the country’s borders while out on R200,000 (US$13000) bail. They failed to report to authorities on Friday as per their bail agreement.
Government spokesperson Phumla Williams told the media in South Africa that the warrant of arrest will be part of documentation that it would submit to the Malawian authorities to return the Bushiris for trial.
“We remain on track and that process is under way and once we have submitted the documentation, we will also share it with South Africans,” Ms Williams said.
The extradition process, government said, could be lengthy but when the Bushiris return to South Africa they could face additional charges for absconding.
Immigration and extradition expert Gary Eisenberg explained that South Africa was relying on the SADC Protocol on Extradition, a treaty between the member states of the southern African bloc to which Malawi and South Africa are signatories.
However, “if you look at it (SADC Protocol) closely you’ll find Article 4 which will prevent the Malawian government from extraditing Bushiri,” Eisenberg explained.
The immigration expert said this was because the self-proclaimed prophet may never receive a guarantee of an impartial trial in South Africa.
“When you listen to his demands, Bushiri is invoking Article 4 of the SADC Protocol and it’s totally in his rights to do so. So, he may have the last laugh,” Eisenberg added.
Bushiri's five demands to the South African government include the recusal of those involved in their trial from investigators to prosecutors, assurance of their safety and security if they return to the country, and assurance that their bail would not be revoked despite defying their bail conditions.
Prophet Bushiri requested the government of Malawi to liaise with the South African government to ensure that their demands are met.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela weighed in on the demands, saying the South African government could not interfere in court proceedings on the matter.
“What self-proclaimed prophet Bushiri seems unaware of is that the SA government has no power to interfere with the judicial system on bail, including revocation,” she said.
Ms Madonsela said because Bushiri had broken his bail conditions by fleeing the country, his bail should be revoked.