Corruption: Malawi’s lost war

ACB opts for amnesty, disguised as asset recovery

..Zuneth Sattar, ACB talking

..Mkaka matter still under probe

The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has lost its appetite to arrest and prosecute new cases as it is overwhelmed with the current number of cases, lack of political support, and inadequate capacity, essentially, waving a white flag in the war against high-level corruption.

The Investigator Magazine has been examining a number of cases, public pronouncements on alleged corruption scandals, and some of the stories it has published and found that the ACB is yet to make progress, but has been very quick and successful in low-profile cases such as Village Headman Mwawa of Mangochi, whose complaint was received in January and she was arrested four months later in April for receiving K54,000 from her subjects in relation to Affordable Input Programme (AIP).

The arrest, attempted firing, and continued verbal attacks on the Anti-Corruption Bureau Director General Martha Chizuma, according to our analyst, has affected the momentum the ACB had in cases such as the property and military hardware mogul Zuneth Sattar’s case and has remained largely mum multibillion-kwacha scandals that have now rocked government.

The ACB sentiments indicate that it has intensified assets recovery, essentially granting amnesty to those implicated in corruption, rather than sending them to jail.

Martha Chizuma tamed?

The outspoken ACB DG has taken a backseat role in avoiding courts and has not addressed the press throughout the 2023 first eight months, raising questions if she has been tamed or contained after a series of head butting with other Judicial, Police, and Office of the President and Cabinet officers since 2021.

Chizuma still remains with 8 months to go before her contracts end

“Her contract ends in May 2024. She seems to be attending more meetings and is ready to go. Some of the decisions that are being made, such as deal agreements she just approves them. She seems to have lost the zeal to fight,” said a close associate of Chizuma.

In our earlier interview in April this year, Egrita Ndala, the Bureaus Principal Public Relations Officer admitted that working for the ACB was a risky affair but was quick to add, that the team was still functioning.

“The Bureau has continued to function to the best of its ability notwithstanding the circumstances surrounding the DG’s issues,” said Ndala. When pressed if Chizuma’s arrest had caused fear within ACB, “The very nature of the ACB work makes it risky. Corruption is a strange and complicated crime.  But the Bureau officers continue to soldier on.”

Politically inclined propaganda against the ACB Director General has been on the rise and her silence seems to propel more allegations from her detractors. 

“We do not expect any more arrests from the ACB, especially in Zuneth Sattar’s case. Most of those that were started will fall away, most defense attorneys are dragging the cases, when Chizuma leave, that is the end of the matter,” said one of the Bureau’s officials.

Sattar’s National Bank accounts withdrawn

A 90-day-restriction order on Zuneth Sattar’s bank accounts expired on 30th August 2023 and the Anti-Corruption Bureau did not renew it. A few days later hundreds of millions of kwachas were moved out of several accounts.

The ACB confirmed that it did not renew the restriction notice, revealing that it was talking to Sattar’s lawyers and there was an agreement that they access funds to meet some statutory obligations.

“The Bureau has always intended to renew the Restriction Notice on the Bank accounts under investigations upon its expiry in August.  However, it was giving room to an out-of-court discussion it engaged with Counsel for Defendants on some proposed withdrawals from the accounts in question, which his clients intended to make to fulfill some statutory obligations,” said Ndala in a written response to our query.

A legal mind, however, said the ACB by opting out of court discussion lowered its guard, as it could have opted to apply in court by having Sattar prove his statutory obligations which it could have been paid from the accounts to the stated obligation.

Ndala said, “The Bureau remains desirous to preserve the money in the bank accounts in question to ensure full recovery of the money lost by Malawi Government to the alleged corruption herein.”

In April, Ndala indicated that the ACB had shifted its focus to asset recovery, and her response to Sattars’ withdrawal was that recovery seems to be the main priority than prosecuting those that have engaged in corruption.

“This is ongoing.  You may also need to be advised that the investigations herein are huge, complex, and multi-layered requiring different approaches,” the ACB spokesperson adds and in April she justified the move towards asset recovery saying, “Moreover, we have also intensified the asset recovery side of the case. Now the Bureau has been able to obtain 12 preservation orders for a number of properties and is in the process of forfeiting to the Government some of these assets through the courts. These being court processes, we cannot say when the process will be completed but the fact is the processes are moving forward.”

Apart from legal bills, one of Sattar’s lawyers in the UK in June confirmed that he is not well as he wrote to The Investigator Magazine saying, “he is not well, and such writing will have a detrimental impact on his physical and mental health”.

His family has been engaging in prayers and he is said to be requiring surgery, hence the funds could be used for taxes, legal fees, and medical expenses.

No new arrests are expected in the Sattar case

The public should not expect any further arrests in relation to Zuneth Sattar’s case but most of the 83 people named in a report to the President as having received gifts from the billionaire property and arms dealer should not celebrate yet as they could be asked to refund the gifts.

Ndala told us, “The report presented to the President simply indicated that as of the date of the report, the information we had seen had revealed that there were 83 people who had allegedly received money gifts, etc. from Zuneth Sattar. All these people are under investigation. For those we have established that they received money or gifts and that they received the same corruptly, we have arrested as you are already aware. For the rest, the investigations are continuing.”

However, The Investigator Magazine can reveal the continued investigations against one Supreme Court Appeal and two High Court Judges were completed, alongside former Attorney Generals and a contingent of politicians, civil servants, journalists, and civil society officials, most of which are stuck as evidence of wrongdoing is scarce.

“One senior official received school fees for his children, the only crime he committed was not to disclose his interest in Sattar’s contracts. Journalists received close to K100 million some in iron sheets and other cash payments ranging from K1 million to anything K5 million several times, their contribution was to look the other side and not cover Sattar negatively, but this is difficult to prove as corruption. The worst thing that will happen is name and shaming but not prosecution,” said our legal source close to ACB.

The source said others already arrested are already making deals.

MCP Secretary General’s case alive- ACB

One of the high-profile cases is that of Malawi Congress Party Secretary General Eisenhower Mkaka which the Bureau had publicly acknowledged it was investigating, leading to calls to have him removed from cabinet.

Mkaka is alleged to have received two vehicles, a Mercedes Benz, and a Range Rover (Image Source Cruise 5 – ZBS)

Mkaka is alleged to have received two vehicles, a Mercedes Benz, and a Range Rover, both of which were traced to Sattar’s list of shipped vehicles. The Investigator Magazine linked the Mercedes Benz chassis to the same one Mkaka had provided publicly that he had bought before he became a Minister.

President Lazarus Chakwera fired Mkaka from the cabinet in January this year, but the ACB is yet to move on him, as their indications that another deal could be reached to save him from seeing any Police cells.

“The Bureau is still looking into this matter. We believe justice will be done on this matter,” said Ndala last Friday, when asked if the matter was still on the ACB cards.

Our inside source said investigations were already completed.

Fertiliser deals under probe

Parliament will on Tuesday open its inquiry into the controversial East Bridge Fertiliser deal which avoided the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets and Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) granting K1273 billion worth of sovereign guarantees to a company that had no history in fertiliser supply.

The ACB is investigating on the East Bridge fertiliser deal

The ACB has said it never approved the East Bridge deal and it strongly advised against it.

“The Bureau has since May 2023 to date expressed its reservations in writing against the East Bridge Deal to the Ministry of Agriculture. The Bureau has refused to give its approval to the Ministry to proceed with the deal,” said Ndala in a written response.

She said the other K150 billion fertiliser deal from Nendongo of Namibia, the  Bureau is still investigating it.

K55bn Chitedze Prison construction gets ACB attention

A potential K55 billion prison construction project has set tongues wagging, with allegations of bribery, improper influence, and the Ministry of Homeland Security senior officials challenging the public procurement authority to insist on its choice of a contractor.

The ACB confirmed to The Investigator Magazine that it officially probing the contract award.

Inside plan of the multibillion kwacha prison

In 2022 The Ministry of Homeland Security advertised for construction of the long awaited new maximum-security prison for Lilongwe after Maula Prison located in the heart of the city was found congested and with no space to allow expansion.

At stake is the cash windfall in commission, finders’ fees, and even bribery to some senior officials accused of pushing a more expensive contract and flouting procurement procedures, The Investigator Magazine has found out.

We have also found out that factions comprised of politicians aligned with the ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Ministry of Homeland Security, contractors, and some middlemen including foreign nationals are working around the clock to force the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) to reverse its earlier rejection of the South African based Stefanutti Stocks (PTY) Limited.

Nine contractors passed the technical evaluation stage with pricing ranging from K29 902 493 778.81 as the lowest and K49 983 003 889.89 as the highest. This happened on the 15th of December 2022, according to a copy of the evaluation report we have seen.

The bids that were selected for final construction were the lowest being a Chinese firm Jiangxi Construction Engineering Group which was the lowest bidder at K29 902 493 778.81, Einstein Construction at K31 267 880 091.67, Plem Construction bid at K31 909 049 294.13 and a joint venture of Dec and Rays Construction K33 262 467 666.23.

The war began immediately, as according to the PPDA some were erroneously disqualified after already passing the technical stage which is the critical assessment of capabilities to contract which is expected to be executed within 156 weeks.

The Investigator Magazine found that two out of the nine contractors are the ones fuelling the fight and one exerting pressure on the PPDA to reverse its professional opinion with others using the name and their links to President Lazarus Chakwera to get their way.

No file on Mumba, Nick Chakwera-ACB

The social media has been awash with allegations related to Marka Railway line and National Oil Company, but the ACB has told us that it has never received any complaint on the allegations and there is no investigation.

No complaint on Eng. Mumba

Engineer Vitumbiko Mumba’s recent joining of frontline politics in the North sent tongues wagging and an avalanche of allegations were thrown at him and his alleged close association with President Lazarus Chakwera’s firstborn son, Pastor Nick.

The Presidents son is clean says ACB

“The Bureau does not have a complaint related to the matter,” said Ndala confirming our investigation that there is no file on the two gentlemen.

The lone battle has ended, Martha Chizuma exit

“Malawi has lost,” said one of the ardent anti-corruption campaigners who said it is up to Malawians in 2025 to pronounce the type of leaders they want as the Tonse Alliance broke records to stifle the ACB no other government has done.

“We have lost the fight against corruption. In the end, it is the same amnesty proposed by the Attorney General in January 2022 that is being implemented against the law as opined by the Malawi Law Society. The ACB has been repurposed and hollowed out. Now it is the tool for the corrupt to defeat oversight,” says another campaigner.

He is more blunt, “We no longer own this country. It belongs to thieves and their political masters.”

By 2025, Malawians would have spent close to K15 billion to finance the ACB which political authorities in bed with corrupt barons do not want to exist.

With Martha Chizuma, a lady who fought a lone battle against the Office of the President, the Ministry of Justice, the Malawi Police, some elements of the Judiciary, and corrupt media and businesses, her early exit, months before the end of her contract, is well pronounced.

Toothless Lioness as many are naming her

Editors note; We have removed any references to current court cases to focus on investigations and the status of cases. We will publish a second series on the current court cases and possible directions.

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