Retired President Benjamin Mkapa will be among key witnesses to testify in defence of Prof Costa Mahalu, who is accused of causing the government a Sh2.5 billion loss in the alleged fraudulent purchase of Tanzania's embassy in Rome. The unprecedented testimony by the former President adds an interesting turn in the high-profile corruption case against Prof Mahalu, who was Tanzania's ambassador to Italy at the time of the transaction. Defence lawyers filed Mr Mkapa's sworn affidavit at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court on Monday, it was learnt yesterday. Prof Mahalu was arraigned in January 2006 along with a former counsellor at the Rome embassy, Ms Grace Martin, on charges of conspiracy to steal from the government. The two, who have denied the charges, are accused of using two separate contracts in the deal. But according to Mr Mkapa's affidavit, whose copy was made available to The Citizen, the government approved both the purchase and price of the building. He says the government's position was made clear in Parliament in August 2004. "This process, which involved the signing of two agreements (one formal and one commercial), which was necessitated by the prevailing customs and practice in Italy, was done with the full knowledge and approval of the government of the United Republic of Tanzania," Mr Mkapa says. The retired President, who inaugurated the building in February 2003, adds: "The practice of two agreements has been done before by the government of the United Republic of Tanzania where it was deemed to be in the national interest". The court in April 2009 ruled that Prof Mahalu and Ms Martin had a case to answer after considering the testimony of seven prosecution witnesses and nine exhibits.After the ruling, Prof Mahalu had asked for more time to decide whether or not he would call witnesses. His co-accused has lined up three witnesses. A lawyer defending Prof Mahalu, Mr Mabere Marando, yesterday said he had already submitted the affidavit to the Director of Public Prosecutions."Our intention is to use the affidavit without having to call the former President to court, but if the State will object, we will be willing to have him summoned to court to substantiate what he says in the affidavit," Mr Marando said."If they reject the affidavit, we are prepared to ask the court to summon him." Under the Evidence Act, a person who makes an affidavit under oath can be summoned for cross-examination. In his affidavit, Mr Mkapa showers praise on Prof Mahalu as a person who served the nation with honesty. "For the entire period I have worked with the ambassador in his various capacities in government service, I have known him as a person with a strong character, who is sincere, honest, obedient and a hard worker. He adds: "Those qualities led to his being awarded one of the highest national honours by the President of Italy on the Italian National Commemoration Day, long after he had left the country." He insists that the purchase of the building was in accordance with the government's policy of acquiring or building permanent offices and residences for Tanzania's missions abroad as a way of minimising costs.Mr Mkapa, who was President from 1995 to 2005, says the purchase of a chancery building in Rome was a matter of national interest. "Through the process of the government's machinery, I was made aware of the fact that the government's valuation reports for the building was established by the ministry of Works at $3million and ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlement Development at 5.5million euros." According to the former President, the state machinery also made him aware of the fact the building was purchased at $3 million and approved the whole process and procedures pertaining to the purchase of the building located on Vialle Cortina d'Ampezzo 185 in Rome. He says he was also made aware of the fact that Prof Mahalu was given full authority to oversee and execute the process which led to the purchase of the chancery through a government's power of attorney. The prosecution alleges that Prof Mahalu and Ms Martin, on diverse dates and places in Italy, Tanzania and elsewhere conspired to steal from the government. It is also alleged that on September 23, 2002 at the Tanzanian embassy in Italy, being persons in the service of the Tanzanian government, knowingly and with intent to deceive, the two used payment vouchers containing false particulars that the embassy building in Rome cost 3,098,741.58 euros. It was alleged that the accused on October 1, 2002 at the embassy used a sales contract dated September 1, 2002, claiming that the purchase price was for the abovementioned sum, and that the vendor of the building had received the money. The prosecution further alleges that on the same date and place the accused stole 2,065,827.60 euros. can this be true!!!!!!!!!!!?