By Achalume Bakayo
The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Director General Martha Chizuma is being challenged to pursue investigations into numerous complaints received about former president Joyce Banda and the way she used her Personal Tax Identification Number (TPIN).
President Lazaraus Chakwera told BBC Focus on Africa that the probe on Banda will continue.
“The probe on Joyce Banda will continue. Individuals must be held responsible and cannot be judged by proxy,” said Chakwera.
However, Banda insists that she was not involved in the Cashgate scandal, despite being implicated by other cashgate convicts like Osward Lutepo.
The ACB announced that its officers would travel to Mangochi any day from 20th July, 2021, to interview former President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika over an allegation that his TPIN was used to import cement worth billions of Malawi Kwacha.
The ACB has kept flipping and flopping on the interview dates, but a few days ago APM, as he is fondly known by his adoring fans, released a press statement in which he expressed reluctance to grant this interview based on a number of factors.
Among them is the fact that ACB obtained a court order freezing his bank accounts without charging him, but apparently based on an investigation being carried out by Fiscal Police.
Reads part of the statement: “In August 2020, the Fiscal Police questioned me under caution regarding the use of my Personal Tax Identification Number (TPIN) during the time I was the President of Malawi. The matter related to the unauthorized use of my TPIN in the importation of cement by other people. I issued a statement that clarified my position in that matter denying my involvement in the importation of cement. Surprisingly, the ACB who never questioned me in any way froze my accounts citing the alleged use or misuse of my TPIN in that transaction.”
From this reading, It is the conclusion of APM that this investigation is phony but a carefully orchestrated plan to continue victimising him through politicians for their own political ends. He says ACB had his bank accounts frozen for 270 days without being told why he was subjected to that treatment. He added that it is illogical for ACB to come back to him now under the guise of an interview when the organisation was still fighting tooth and nail to continue freezing his bank accounts if it had not been stopped by the court.
One would like to agree with Professor Peter Mutharika on this one. ACB is setting a very bad precedent of investigation by acting sparingly on matters that should have been straight forward.
In the first place, can the Bureau come out clear as regards the charge over which the bank accounts for the former President were frozen, and when the investigation started? Indeed, the ACB has investigative and prosecutorial powers, and for the Bureau to continue applying to the courts to continue freezing APM’s accounts when the investigations had not actually started is baffling.
If ACB applied to the courts to freeze APM’s accounts based on the Fiscal Police investigation, can the Bureau inform Malawians at what point the two investigations link to the point where ACB feels it has sufficient interest in the matter to the extent of rushing to the courts to apply for freezing of bank accounts? More interestingly, why did ACB wait for almost a year after freezing APM bank accounts to have an interview with him? Was the Bureau waiting for the court to un-freeze the accounts to wake up from its slumber?
APM has said he will exercise his right to remain silent if he adjudges that the ACB questions do not warrant his responses, and has requested more days to prepare himself for the interview.
However, looking at this hysterical behaviour of the ACB, there can only be one explanation: the Bureau is operating not based on professional dictates but based on remote orders.
APM is not the only former President in this country; there have been other former presidents who have even been shrouded in deeper transgressions than APM. For Example, ACB has never investigated nor frozen bank accounts of former President Joyce Banda despite her clear and brazen involvement in a myriad of transgressions during the time she was Head of State of this country from 2012 to 2014.
Within those two years, Joyce Banda sold the presidential jet under very suspicious circumstances allegedly in an austerity drive to please donors. Principal Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet that time, Chinthu Phiri, told Reuters that the Dassault Falcon 900EX aircraft was sold for USD15 million to Bohnox Enterprise Ltd, a company based in Virgin Islands.
Malawians later learnt that the plane was sold to Paramount Group, the firm that benefited a lot in lucrative arms deals under the PP administration and owned by a wealthy South African family ( name withheld), which also sponsored many of JB’s trips abroad including funding her public relations arrangement with Bell Pottinger of the United to clean her image, which was soiled by Cashgate.
Malawians later learnt that the plane was not sold per-se but actually swapped with maize despite no physical evidence of the said maize. Malawians also learnt that this wealthy South African family also owned a defence manufacturing company, which supplied speedboats to MDF to be used for patrolling Lake Malawi, and Malawians learnt again that despite claims that the boats were new, they were actually second hand.
The Nation newspaper again published an article that the jet was bartered, and that JB was also hiring the same plane on her trips abroad.
There were also other transgressions from her including allocating billions of Kwacha to her OPC under a phoney Principal Secretary (PS) allegedly for the procurement of Soya beans only for the funds to disappear without trace.
All this is on top of the popular Cashgate where government funds disappeared from Account Number One and found in people’s car boots, including revelations that she (JB) was actually the final recipient of the loot in suitcases of hard cash. Malawians must also not forget that Joyce Banda had to flee to the United States where she stayed for some years after losing the 2014 election allegedly for fear of prosecution. This is not exaggeration.
If ACB is able to find grounds to freeze APM bank accounts without charging him, and for merely suspecting that other people may have abused their TPIN, then it must surely also find grounds to do the same from a forest of Joyce Banda’s transgressions. It is believed that Paul Mphwiyo, the former Budget Director who is answering Cashgate related charges, is related to JB.
Meanwhile, it is alleged that JB advised Mphwiyo to ask Judge Esme Chombo, a presiding judge in his Cashgate case to recuse herself. When Chombo resisted, it is believed that JB convinced President Lazarus Chakwera to include Chombo on the list of High Commissioners in order for her to leave prosecution trials in the Mphwiyo case.
Judge Chombo is now heading for Washington as an Ambassador hence killing off any prospect of justice to Malawians who lost the much needed money for development.
All this is happening when the ACB is watching and clapping hands.
It is clear that JB does not want Mphwiyo’s case to conclude because she may be implicated in the end. As Mphwiyo still walks free, Oswald Lutepo, a Cashgate convict, is winding up his eight-year jail sentence on 13th January, 2022.
Lutepo named JB more than once as the chief beneficiary, evidence which was not pursued because JB was immune to prosecution at the time.
ACB must do right things for the sake of future reference for our children. Otherwise, it is setting a bad precedent and rendering credence to the conclusion that the organisation is being used as a Trojan horse to pursue a high-handed political vendetta against APM. He is being persecuted for who he is although he has not been charged or convicted by any competent court of law.