Malawi President Chakwera is a dictator

…free speech, free expression under threat

…30 plus journalists, activists arrested, intimidated under Chakwera

…Police arrest a journalist over “untouchable Batatawala”

Welcome to a new Malawi, where the corrupt are protected. If you are corrupt, answering corruption charges, borrowed, or financed Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President Lazarus Chakwera, you can call the Malawi Police Service to arrest, intimidate, and even threaten anyone speaking ill of you.

Writing or arresting associates of Zuneth Sattar, another financier of President Chakwera, will get you arrested- ask Marth Chizuma and Gregory Gondwe. Now Abdul Karim Batatawala, another businessman answering corruption charges, has had a journalist arrested by the state.

Karim Batatawala is on record as having borrowed President Lazarus Chakwera through his advisor K378 million soon after getting into power in 2020. Now, he is under State House and Malawi Police protection.

Abdul Karim Batatawala, another businessman answering corruption charges, has had a journalist arrested by the state

Martha Chizuma, the once famous Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director General one morning she woke up in a Police van and was bundled to Namitete Police Station. President Chakwera’s Secretary to the Cabinet, Colleen Zamba, followed up with an interdiction. A very strange Commission of Inquiry failed to answer a simple question- who ordered the arrest of Chizuma?

Demonstrators at court during Boni Kalindos appearance in Lilongwe

Bon Kalindo, a comedian, and former parliamentarian turned activist is now a permanent guest of the Malawi Police Service and the Malawi Judiciary, he has a litany of cases- mostly bordering on free speech, he has tried to demonstrate and speak out against President Chakwera and his MCP. Kalindo has been driven all over the country.

Bon Kalindo in red overrall appearing at court in April 2024

Another activist, businessman Joshua Chisa Mbele, tired of arrests, has now met and reconciled with President Chakwera and has written on his personal Facebook page his admiration of the administration.

Joshua Chisa Mbele, tired of arrests, has now met and reconciled with President Chakwera

Sylvester Namiwa, another activist, has now resorted to writing “safe” letters against companies and individuals after his demonstrations and warning to the President, Police, and other public agencies saw him get arrested more than five times in President Chakwera’s new Malawi.

Sylvester Namiwa has been arrested more than 5 times by the Chakwera led government

Fryson Chodzi of FND went into silence after the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) suddenly had its memory jolted that he did not pay taxes after he started a legal fight to stop Chakwera from giving  K104 billion to another financier of the MCP Khato Civils for the controversial Lilongwe Salima Water project.

In January, 15 Journalists, still at MBC and others former, including Greyson Chapita and an elderly Sheikh Mustahab Ayami, were subjected to harassment and threatened with arrests after Police confiscated their mobile phones to search for an administrator of a paradox Facebook page.

Platform for Investigative Journalist Director Gregory Gondwe, who had to flee Malawi until the international community raised concerns after his site exposed.

Gregory Gondwe was once arrested then fled the country for fear of his life

Police have now said Batatawatala lodged a complaint that Mhone and his Editor based abroad were demanding money to take down stories. Interestingly, Batatawala seems to have complained at Police Headquarters as Mhone was arrested and driven over 300 kilometres to Lilongwe for a matter that he can be charged and be dealt with in Blantyre. This practice is common with politically motivated arrests.

Police have now said Batatawatala lodged a complaint that Mhone and his Editor based abroad were demanding money to take down stories

In 2024 alone, MacMillan Mhone, a Journalist with Nation Publications Ltd, published a story with Malawi24 in August 2023, and nine months later, the Police say he published a story likely to cause public alarm.

The list is growing long as about a dozen people have been arrested for their social media posts, a very sharp contrast with President Peter Mutharika, President Joyce Banda and President Bakili Muluzi, who were the subject of criticism, some of it very personal on different platforms.

Chakwera’s record now confirms he is a dictator. He has arrested and intimidated more critics than any other President since the start of multiparty democracy in 1994.

Chakwera turning Malawi’s democracy into a joke

This would have been a joke, but looking at the trends of intimidation, arrests and harassment of journalists, activists, and others who differ with President Lazarus Chakwera, Malawi’s free speech, freedom to demonstrate, and freedom of opinion are now under threat.

Chakwera’s record now confirms he is a dictator

“The President is the Commander-In-Chief, and the fact that the Police keep arresting his critics shows that the man is a dictator. He is used to having people shout ‘amen” to every crap he says. Well the state is not a church, he is being paid by tax payers money, he has to account for it,” charged one social media user angry with the latest turn of Kalindo and Mhone arrests.

The President and Malawi Police have been working hard to intimidate critics that they now resemble anti-free speech and free press advocates only associated with dictators. It would be safe to say that after breaking the record since the demise of Kamuzu Banda, President Chakwera is now officially a dictator.

“The MCP’s history of arrests and intimidation is still embedded in the party. The Police are reinforcing what they represent: repression and anti-free speech. Its ironic that the MCP benefitted from free speech, free expression and free press under the DPP to get into power. Now they hate it because they are a failing government,” noted a free media activist.

The man Chakwera is protecting has failed to supply goods

Abdul Karim Batatawala – a Malawian of Indian origin who came to Malawi as a shopkeeper operating in Limbe but rose to a business kingpin is said to have scammed the Malawi army, Police, and Immigration Department allegedly through fraudulent tactics that breached Malawi procurement and anti-corruption laws.

According to published reports, he is also known as Abdul Lido or Abdul Karim. He arrived in Malawi from India in 1992 with his two brothers. While in Malawi, he worked as a shop assistant at Okhai Electronics in Limbe, surviving on alms and second-hand clothes given to him by well-wishers, according to information shared by observers.

Three years later, he quit to set up his own cobweb of businesses.

Now a business tycoon, Batatawala has close business ties to Aslam Batawalala. Together, the pair appear to own various companies, including Africa Commercial Agency, Kasco Enterprises, SS Express Agency, Lido Electrical Engineering Limited, HG suppliers, Zam Zam General Dealers, Gratorite General Dealers, Novateck Engineering Suppliers, Elegant Suppliers and Pamodzi, a real estate company.

In another report, it was further alleged that the business tycoon financed the presidential bid of Malawi president Lazarus Chakwera with nearly half a billion.

“After his arrest for fraud and corruption, Batatawala sued President Lazarus Chakwera’s Chief Advisor on Rural Transformation and Development, Adamson Mkandawire, for failing to repay a loan of K378 million, which is alleged to have been taken on behalf of President Chakwera,” narrated an analyst following the matter.

Media exposes Chakwera’s pangolin is a fraud

The platform for Investigative Journalism revealed that Batawalala duped the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) – and used the same alleged tactics to dupe the Malawi Police and Immigration Department.

According to the PIJ’s investigative report, Batatawala spent more than 10 years without delivering goods.

“In 2003, the Malawi Defence Force, through order No.191052, provided various Local Purchasing Orders (LPOs) to three Batatawala-owned companies: Africa Commercial Agency, Kasco Enterprises, and SS Express Agencies. The total cost of the agreement was K9,457 466 604.63.

“On 20th September 2014, exactly 11 years after the LPOs were issued, senior military officials in the Malawi Defense Force were dumbfounded to hear that the goods–Olive Green Tentage and Olive Green Kit Bags–from Express Agencies and Kasco Enterprises had arrived at the military’s stores.

“Firstly, after inspecting the goods at the Zomba Ordnance Depot, the military observed that the goods did not fit specifications, which means the items would not serve the intended purpose”.

The investigation also established that the goods the tycoon delivered were mostly of substandard quality, forcing the Malawi army to reject Batatawala’s procurements.

However, PIJ’s report shows that using his connections and persons of political influence, Batatawala manipulated the army and other public departments to get payments even for rejected procurements.

The Malawi army is not the only public institution that fell victim to Batatawala.

Using the same controversial tactics considered to be in breach of both procurement and anti-corruption laws, the investigation by PIJ details how Batatawala also duped several public departments, such as the Malawi Police and the Immigration Department. The two departments fall under the same Ministry of Homeland Security.

The PIJ investigation also discovered that the goods the tycoon delivered were not only delayed and “grossly overpriced from the beginning” but also some of the procurements for which he demanded billions in payments were not included in the initial tender documents and contracts.

For example, details the PIJ in its report, the Immigration Department purchased 500 lockers at a unit price of K2,950,560.00 amounting to K1,475,280.000.00 from Batatawala’s Africa Commercial Agency under Contract Number IM/01/85 dated 27th March 2010. PIJ established that not only was the contract overpriced, but there was also no open tender when Batawalala was awarded the contract.

“It was noted in a letter Ref. that the lockers were not included in the previous contract, which was extended through the Office of Director of Public Procurement. No ODPP/03/8 dated 4th March 2010. Although the lockers had some specifications which were required, the audit was of the view that 500 lockers supplied by Africa Commercial Agency at a unit price of K2,950,560.00 were obtained at an exorbitant price considering that the size of the lockers and the required specifications could not justify the price,” the publisher quotes an audit report into the procurements.

The story that got the Journalist arrested was published in August 2023 (we are republishing it in full to support the arrested Journalist and Media Freedom in Malawi.

Details have emerged about how fraud and corruption suspect Abdul Karim Batatawala is allegedly evading the law to secure contracts with the Malawi Government. 

According to inside sources, Batatawala has established a network of companies allegedly registered through proxies to continue winning government tenders despite legal restrictions against him. 

Batatawala’s scheme was first exposed during an intense family field with his son-in-law, Shabir Jussab.

This dispute revealed that the controversial magnate had intended to exploit Shabir Jussab’s companies for government deals, just as he had done with other proxy firms in the past.

However, Jussab’s decision to turn down Batatawala’s request landed him in trouble as the Malawi Police quickly moved in with a warrant of arrest for the British national. 

“Prioritising assistance to alleged fraudsters and corrupt officials detracts from our duties of protecting the public and ensuring that public funds are put into good use,” a concerned Malawi Police official privy to the whole issue had told Malawi24 on condition of anonymity when the story first broke. 

Details of the police officers or prosecutors who obtained the warrant of arrest for Jussab were not revealed by the South West Region Division of the Malawi Police. Malawi24 can also independently verify that Interpol has not issued any Red Notice for Shabir Jussab despite police and media reports.

The Red Notice would require an approval from the Minister of Homeland and knowledge of President Lazarus Chakwera which in turn could pin the two officials into the scandal.  

The warrant issued by the Limbe senior resident magistrate’s court in Blantyre was controversially obtained by the Malawi Police allegedly as way of the ‘law enforcers’ protecting its own interests, considering that Batatawala’s current fraud and corruption charges relate to deals he signed with the Malawi Police.  

Malawi24 can also independently verify that the government is aware of these arrangements where deals were being facilitated through proxies on behalf of Batatawala. 

Among the companies alleged to be utilised by Batatawala is “Tradeview,” registered under the name of Manish Kubavat. Kubavat was previously employed by Batatawala under Pamodzi as a construction supervisor. 

Sources indicate that Batatawala registered the company under Manish’s name while he was still working for him, and subsequently dismissed him and sent him back to India immediately after the company’s registration. This proxy arrangement was intended to allow Batatawala to disown any ownership of the company should there be independent investigations by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) into pontential fraudulent dealings with between the proxies and the government. 

Tradeview has allegedly already been contracted by the Malawi Prisons. Malawi24 could not independently verify these allegations.

“Confirmed orders from Malawi Prisons to TRADEVIEW have been established. This company is situated within Pamodzi Park Building, adjacent to Giraffe Media. Jamie Da Silva, an employee of Batatawala, oversees operations at this company”, one source told Malawi24.  

The second entity, “BEMBEKE Trading,” is registered under Batatawala’s current Lido employee. The company operates under the name of Batatawala’s truck driver, Austin Rajab.

BEMBEKE Trading has been supplying goods to numerous government parastatals.  The third company, “Minolta,” is registered under Batatawala’s brother-in-law, Hussein Jussab.

In addition to these three companies, Malawi24 has also learned of several other proxy firms that source claims Batatawala has been employing to secure government contracts. These companies are all registered under the names of Batatawala’s employees or close associates, and they are all used allegedly to obscure Batatawala’s involvement in government contracts. 

However, Jamie Da Silva and Hussein Jussab all denied connections with Batatawala; saying their business are independent of the business tycoon.  “It’s nonsense, who told you this? Can you say the name of the person who told you this”, da Silva demanded when asked about the allegations that his business is used as a proxy by the tycoon.  

Like Jamie Da Silva, Jussab Hussein also blushed off the allegations. “We don’t do business with anyone else, we do business on our own”.  Asked if his company has any contracts with any government department, Hussein said: “I don’t deal with the government”, responded Jussab Hussein. 

Austin Rajab confessed to owning Bembeke Trading but when asked about being connected to Batatawala and Bembeke being used as a proxy, he asked Malawi24 to “speak with Karim [Batatawala]” instead. 

When Malawi24 insisted on getting the information from him since the company alleged to being used as a proxy was his, he said he needed more time to respond and asked us to call him back “tomorrow” (Tuesday, 15 August).  When contacted on the said date, Rajab did not pick up.

This is just the latest in a long line of allegations of fraud and corruption against Batatawala. He has been accused of embezzling millions of dollars from government projects, and he is currently facing multiple criminal charges.  

In December 2021, Batatawala was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on suspicion of fraud and money laundering. He is accused of defrauding the Malawi government of about K1.5 billion (about US$1.5 million) and laundering K2.5 billion (about US$2.5 million) involving Malawi’s Defense Force (MDF), Malawi Police, and the Malawi Immigration Department.

In 2021, Abdul Karim Batatawala’s Reliance Trading Company was allegedly implicated in a K167.8 million scam involving questionable Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) contract.  

In 2022, the ACB restricted Batatawala and his alleged fraud accomplices Fletcher Nyirenda and Limbani Chawinga from disposing of assets.  Our sources revealed that details of other companies have been shared with credible investigators.

Batatawala maintains his innocence and has denied all fraud and corruption charges against him. He pleaded not guilty when he was taken to court and has sworn to clear his name.

Regarding the accusations that he is now employing proxies to continue doing business with the Malawi government, he bashed the accusations as baseless. 

“I am not using those companies and the companies are not in my name. If you have any evidence please bring it forward,” he said before threatening Malawi24 reporters with an arrest, saying he has reported Malawi24 to Area 30 Police over the article we had previously published.

“I have told Area 30 Police to issue an arrest warrant for you [Malawi24]”, revealed Batatawala who lives at Namiwawa in Blantyre.

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