Former Zambian president Frederick Chiluba faces a civil claim for at least US $23.3 million, which the government alleges he stole from state coffers while in power.
But the former Zambian premier has refused to submit himself to the court process that started in London at the beginning of the year.
A source close to the case told IRIN the Zambian attorney-general petitioned the London court because the assets being sought for repatriation were located in Europe.
"Because a lot of the people implicated in these frauds are Europe-based and their interests are in Europe, if you were to bring a civil claim in a Zambian court and won the judgement, it would not help you much - the possibility of a European court recognising a Zambian judgement and giving it force is remote, so the idea is to get the assets that are in Europe," the source explained.
Some $23 million "has already been frozen, as legislation in the United Kingdom allows the UK courts to do that, and now we have to get the case heard and the fraud proven, and once that is done the government can get the assets repatriated".
Chiluba, a former trade union leader whose election victory in 2001 ended almost two decades of single party rule, has refused to submit himself to the court process, arguing that because he is under a travel ban he could not present himself before the London court.
This has prompted the Zambian government to allow UK Judge Peter Smith to hear the case in Lusaka.
However, Chiluba's spokesman, Emmanuel Mwamba, told IRIN that the former president would still refuse to appear before the judge.
"We contend that Dr Chiluba is outside the London court's jurisdiction. We state that the [decision] by the attorney-general of Zambia to take this matter to a London court is irresponsible. Dr Chiluba is domiciled in Zambia, the attorney-general is domiciled in Zambia ... why should Dr Chiluba be taken to a foreign court and submit to foreign laws?" Mwamba asked.
"We are going to ignore any order arising from that court - the London court is not an international court, its jurisdiction is limited to England and Wales, and Dr Chiluba is not domiciled in either of them," Mwamba stressed.
He alleged that the government had undermined Zambia's sovereignty by allowing Judge Smith to sit in Lusaka.
"It's a sad precedent for Zambia and Africa, and we find it injurious to our sovereignty," Mwamba added.
However, the source close to the case noted that a legal precedent existed for Judge Smith to sit in Lusaka.
"In fact, a Zambian court has sat in the UK in a criminal matter. This is a civil matter and the judge is merely coming here to hear the evidence of the relevant witness, which is Chiluba; if Chiluba does not want to appear, then so be it - I don't see how that becomes a matter of sovereign interests," the source noted.
Alfred Chanda, president of Transparency International Zambia, told IRIN that "at the end of the day we want a full recovery of all the money stashed away abroad. I think issues of sovereignty should not be used here to prevent justice from taking its course".
Chiluba, who tried but failed to amend the constitution to stand for a third term in 2001, still faces separate criminal charges for allegedly using state money to purchase homes for attorneys who did private work for him. The amounts involved, however, run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, as opposed to the millions sought in the civil trial.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions