Lusaka - A Zambian court on Thursday quashed criminal charges against main opposition leader Michael Sata, an arch-rival of President Levy Mwanawasa, who was arrested for allegedly falsifying his assets.

Magistrate Sharon Newa said the criminal indictment against Sata was "defective" as the declaration of assets he made for his

presidential nomination in the September general elections was not under oath.

She said making false declaration of assets and liabilities did not constitute a criminal offence under electoral laws.

Sata, who came second in September's poll, was arrested after he alleged in his nomination forms that an ex-minister and ally of Mwanawasa owed him money.

The veteran opposition leader's lawyers had argued that the indictment against their client was malicious and amounted to "political persecution."

Robert Simeza told the court Thursday that Sata should be awarded damages by government for legal costs.

The state, through prosecutor Berlin Lubinda, said it would appeal to the high court against the judgment because the magistrate should have allowed the charges to be amended as opposed

to quashing them. - Sapa-AFP