Asian businessperson Abdul Karim Batatawala has lost a court battle in which he was demanding about MK407 million from government for being prevented from developing public land he purchased at Mandala in Blantyre.
Through his Platinum Investment Limited, Batatawala sued government demanding MK394.7 million for special loss and damage and MKI1.9 million being legal costs after Museums of Malawi stopped him from developing the plot after claiming ownership.
The land, on plot number BE 60 at Mandala, was allegedly sold to the businessperson by Ministry of Lands in 2013, but the Department of Museums and Monuments blocked Batatawala from embarking on any construction works.
According to court documents in Civil Cause Number 162 of 2018, this publication has seen, Batatawala bought the plot in 2013 and leased it for 99 years starting from July 1 2013.
However, the land’s certificate of lease was issued three months later and was signed by the then land registrar at Ministry of Lands Killian Remmie Palika on October 10 2013.
The businessperson, through Platinum Investment Limited’s finance and administration manager Azery Mnyalira, who was the only witness in the matter, claimed the Museums of Malawi “wrongfully and persistently prevented” the development of the land or exercising rights of ownership.
Mnyalira reiterated that the Museums of Malawi wrongfully and persistently requested them to remove construction materials from the land and threatened criminal charges for failure to remove the said materials.
This forced Platinum Investment Limited to issue a notice of intended suit to Museums of Malawi in December 2017, demanding the said money the firm claimed it incurred cost as a direct result of alleged wrongful conduct by the Museums Department.
In June 2018, Platinum Investment Limited commenced legal action against the Museums after the government department failed to respond to the notice.
On his part, the Museums and Monuments director Lovemore Mazibuko, one of the two witnesses of Museums of Malawi, argued the land belonged to his department and was bought in 1961.
He argued the Museums of Malawi was not consulted by the Ministry of Lands and was not even informed about the sale of the plot, a development that shocked them; hence, expressing resistance to the “wrongful transaction.”
Giving the history of the land, Mazibuko said that, initially, it belonged to African Lakes Corporation Limited (ALCL), but was bought by the Museums Board of Trustees in 1961 under title deed number 27190.
He further said the land was formerly known as Plot Number 497 (Blantyre), but due to changes in the numbering system, the plot was now known as Plot Number BE 60.
In his ruling, dated December 23 2021, Judge Mike Tembo argued Platinum Investment Limited dealt with the Ministry of Lands in circumstances that appear to be opaque in so far as the Department of Museums is concerned.
“Through that opaque process, the claimant [Platinum Investment Limited] was offered the land herein by the Ministry of Lands without any consultation with the Department of Museums and without any information being provided to the Department of Museums in that regard. This appears very bizarre, to say the least,” he observed.
Mazibuko was not available when contacted on the matter. But Platinum Investment Limited lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta said his client did not appeal the ruling.
Last year, Batatawala was arrested alongside three co-accused of conspiracy to defraud by inflating the market price of 500 lockers procured by the Immigration Department from Africa Commercial Agency under contract number IM/01/85 dated March 22 2010 valued at MK2 950 560 per unit price totalling K1 475 280 000.
Batatawala was given a very ‘favorite’ and ‘Soft’ bail bond by Magistrate Martin Chipofya of Blantyre Senior Resident.
Among the bail conditions, Batawalala was ordered to pay a bail bond of MK800, 000 and produce a surety of MK2.5 million non-cash bond, conditions very favorable not fit for a person suspected to have defraud Malawians billions.
Since the bail was granted, the office of the Director of the Public Prosecution (DPP) and the defence team have been playing delaying tactics to start prosecution the case, as a way of protecting Batatawala from going to prison.