A Malawi magistrate released self-proclaimed prophet and businessman Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary from custody on Thursday, saying the arrest of the couple, who face charges of money-laundering, theft and fraud in South Africa, was illegal.
Principal Resident Magistrate Viva Nyimba said the couple’s arrest in Malawi on Wednesday went against the country’s laws and ordered the two to be freed without bail “in the interest of justice.”
Bushiri, a pastor, has a large social media following and clothes, mansions and sports cars.
Malawi police arrested Bushiri after he skipped bail in South Africa and fled to his home country. Bushiri has said his life is in danger in South Africa and he believes he will not have a fair trial.
He and his wife were awaiting trial on charges of money-laundering, theft and fraud in South Africa, but it emerged over the weekend that they had been smuggled out of the country to Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, according to the BBC.
That prompted a South African court to issue two warrants for Bushiri’s arrest. There has been a simmering diplomatic row between Malawi and South Africa over who was to blame for his escape.
“We’re aware of bilateral relationship between the two countries, but the rule of law must prevail,” Nyimba said.
South Africa’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told a news conference on Thursday that the National Prosecuting Authority and elite police unit the Hawks were compiling a formal extradition request for the Bushiris and that the government hoped to file the extradition papers within two weeks.
“We are convinced that the Bushiris will come back to South Africa to stand trial,” Lamola said.
Before their court appearance, supporters pushed and shoved to enter the court room, carrying placards that urged the government from extraditing the couple.
Back in South Africa the Bushiris forfeited their 5.5 million rand ($355,700) property after the pair violated their bail conditions.
The visibly relieved pastor walked out of court in the Malawian administrative capital Lilongwe, punching the air and told journalists: “We believe that justice is about to prevail.”
“My life is more precious than the assets in South Africa.”