…MDF refusal to protect unnamed figures
…like cashgate, expect nothing from the Sattar cases
“We agreed to amend section 91 (2) of the Malawi constitution and that should happen. “
On July 1, 2022, Vice President Saulos Chilima told the nation in reaction to the June 22 announcement by President Lazarus Chakwera that he was withholding delegated duties from the country’s second citizen.
Section 91 (2) provides immunity to the President from criminal prosecution whilst in office.
The Vice President’s challenge was ducked, no response from his boss and the whole Government and the two- Chakwera and Chilima, now appear in public -from playing fundraising golf to funeral ceremonies. But tension between the two party’s followers remains high.
Months later, on 25th November 2022, the Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested the Vice President, alleging he had received US$280,000 from British businessman born in Malawi Zuneth Sattar. Chilima was listed in an ACB report to the President among 83 other high-profile names that includes Malawi Defence Force, Police, Judges, Politicians, Media, and Civil Society groups.
The ACB had asked the President not to name anyone in the report as investigations were still on going, Chakwera covered it by mentioning Chilima and suspending his Chief of Staff, who later would make a deal with the ACB.
The Veep pointed response can give a clue of what he either knows or is sure that removing the immunity of President Chakwera could unveil some of the mysteries surrounding many corruption allegations.
It is from Chilima statement that the current circus in the Financial Crimes Division of the Malawi High Court one can deduce that the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) is said to be refusing to give evidence to the ACB and by extension even to the court, for what it terms as national security concerns.
The MDF procurement that affects Chilima
The Anti-Corruption Bureau alleged that the Vice President between March and October of 2021 received US$280,000 to use his influence in assisting Zuneth Sattar’s Malachitte FZE to be awarded a contract worth USD19 993 600.00 (K25 billion at today’s exchange rate). The contract number was MDF/DOL/Armoured Personnel for 32 armoured personnel vehicles which are used for public order.
The second details regard a contract worth USD$7 875 000.00 (K11 billion at today’s exchange rate) to supply food rations to the Malawi Police Service which was contract number MPS/SB/16/04/2021 by another of Sattar’s company called Xaviar Limited.
According to published reports, Malachitte FZE bid in between April and October 2020 to supply six armoured water canons using a single source method. The Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA) objected to the single source and the MDF eventually issued two contracts to Sattar’s Malachitte FZE and a UAE based Crimson Trading LLC which according to investigations report belongs to Sattar’s business associate identified as Ebrahim. Crimson Trading LLC provided Anti-Riot Kit controls.
According to the NCA, Malachitte FZE purchased six water cannon trucks from the International Armoured Group FZE of UAE as well at a total cost of US$2,165,700 but charged the Malawi Defence Force a total of US$10,524,000 for the same trucks.
MDF senior officials record statements
A report published in the Nation newspaper of 10 August 2022, provides an interesting insight of the MDF side of the Sattar allegations, as the paper reported that six senior officials had their caution statements recorded by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The MDF through its then Commander General Vincent Nundwe is reported to have confirmed and the paper identified that the officers included one major general, two brigadiers, two colonels as well as a civilian seconded to MDF.
The Investigator Magazine can reveal that four senior officials were affected and shifted from their positions. The officials came from Commandant, Logistics and Legal sections and appear in the ACB report that President Chakwera used on June 22, 2022.
With most of the details about the procurement including quantities, over pricing and that a single source method was preferred already in public domain, the question of national security now seems to be an intriguing concept, that has set tongues wagging.
Who knew what? What is a national security concern that even courts are now allowed if the matter is simply about buying trucks and food rations which the public already know? These are hard questions that leave a lot of room for speculation including pointing fingers that it is who knew what and gave green light to the deal.
Otherwise, following procurement procedures or not would not be the same as the number of guns the MDF has. But maybe what was found during searches at Sattar house adds another piece to the jigsaw puzzle that this case is becoming.
OPC letters found at Sattar’s house
Despite the claim of being sensitive and issues of national security, the reports from NCA indicate that sensitive government documents were among those that had been recovered at Zuneth Sattar properties after he was arrested.
“The searches conducted upon Sattar’s arrest on 5th October 2021 led to the uplift of several internal Malawian government documentation from his premises. Those documents included letters from the Office of the President and Cabinet and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority to the Army Commander, Malawi Defence Force, in September 2020 showing approval for the signing of two contracts for the procurement of anti-riot equipment by the Malawi Defence Force,” reads a copy of an affidavit.
The mention of the documentation that included from the Office of the President and Cabinet has not been challenged and the notion is that whoever leaked to Sattar, might have come from any of the mentioned offices-MDF or OPC.
Despite the serious breach of confidential documentation, neither the MDF nor the OPC have shown interest over the matter and any possible implications over national security.
Chilima is accused of influencing MDF, any progress?
While the Vice President has availed himself before the courts, more than six appearances later a core challenge to the progress of the matter has been the defence getting all the evidence as ruled by Justice Redson Kapindu on August 1, 2023.
The Judge said disclosures were within Chilima’s rights and interest to have a fair trial and the ACB should provide all the evidence.
The MDF has refused to release the evidence, citing national security. The Attorney General has defended this position in court, essentially telling the court off, a very unusual legal position.
Justice Kapindu had ruled that only the court can rule whether the evidence in question should not be shared or not, but the Attorney General who is the lawyer for MDF insisted it is a matter of national security.
Chilima’s case is it about Politics or MDF
The main charges the Vice President is facing relate to procurement at MDF and the refusal to give evidence shows the challenge both the ACB and courts would have during the actual trial if the case would proceed.
Without the MDF evidence, the case degenerates into a political one, like that of Dr. Cassim Chilumpha and the Commander-In-Chief of the MDF is the same person, who used the ACB report to strip his deputy of his delegated duties.
Two questions we cannot answer for fear of prejudice are- what happens if MDF maintains that they cannot release the evidence and how will ACB prosecute Chilima without the MDF evidence which is the centre of the matter? Already the ACB has indicated that it might apply to proceed without the MDF evidence, whilst Chilima’s lawyers are likely to apply again for the matter to be struck off.
The case future hinges on who is hiding what in the name of national security, when the procurement of vehicles and food rations, pricing, sourcing and who was involved is already in public domain. The notion of national security- without the court seeing evidence, leaves wider room for speculation- there is an Elephant in the courtroom that could mean involvement of larger-than-life political figures who after the vice president, only one remains.
Zuneth Sattar cases going nowhere
Since the first arrest on 1 January 2022 of former Lands Minister Kezzie Msukwa, the Sattar cases have not made much progress- save for Chilima and Reyneck Matemba, with the latter being the only case that has reached trial stage.
The other 9 cases are yet to move, after appeals were logged at the Supreme Court of Appeal, which is yet to make pronouncements in the same months, and in the case of Msukwa almost two years after the initial arrest.
As the 2025 elections draws near-with one year and ten months to go, just like the 2001-K187 million education scandal and 2013-cashgate, politicians are likely to align themselves with winning candidates and the matters will no longer assume priority, marking the natural death of the cases.
ACB Director General Martha Chizuma is unlikely to have her contract renewed at the end of her contract in May 2024, closing another chapter where after a false start, the usual happened.
In the UK, Sattar himself is reported to have made progress in recovery after a serious health scare and the appearance of two National Crimes Agency (NCA) officers at the Matemba trial should remove any doubts of the UK agencies position on the matter. Its press and communications team says nothing has changed- meaning the matter is still on.