Malawi: Chaponda Arrest Looming As ACB Concludes Corruption Investigations Into 'Maizegate'
By Green Muheya
Graft busting body, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has concluded its investigations into corruption element in Malawi's maize imports from Zambia involving George Thapatula Chaponda--the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and Leader of the House -- and an arrest is looming.
Two state sponsored public inquiries recommended that Chaponda, who is also the vice president of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), should be investigated.
Chaponda could be arrested after Parliament adjourns this week.
Reyneck Matemba, the deputy director of the ACB said the bureau concluded its investigations three weeks ago on forensic investigation of suitcases stashed with cash - US$58,000 and MK124 million seized at Chaponda's house during the raid in February this year.
ACB raided Chaponda's residence following a recommendation by the commission of inquiry into Malawi's maize imports from Zambia that he should be investigated.
Matemba said ACB is coming up with good charges for Chaponda.
"We need to come up with a very good case and good analysis ..." he said.
"If we are to charge Dr Chaponda with existing currency exchange laws on the money we found in his house, then he could get away with very lenient sentence and the people would blame us for this. People should be patient. We cannot start to prosecute him in piece meal. We cannot start isolating cases," he said.
Asked recently on Capital Radio's Straight Talk program when ACB will summon Chaponda for questioning.
"At the bureau we do not just summon an accused person for questioning when we do not have basis. Being found with money in your house is not a criminal offence on its own," said Matemba who is also ACB prosecutor.
Matemba said they wanted to finalise the investigations and invite Chaponda for "questioning."
He said the bureau has been working closely with Reserve Bank of Malawi on the cash which was seized from Chaponda's residence.
"We will be inviting him to be questioning. We are not shielding Chaponda," he said, adding "one aspect of investigation can lead to another."
But law experts say Chaponda has been afforded enough time and space to build his story, saying investigations could have gone ahead having interviewed him under caution which is not a presumption of guilt.
Chaponda justified why he is cash-rich after they confiscated at least K166 million stashed in suitcases at his house, saying he has worked for the United Nations (UN) for over 20 years and has his own investment.
He also submitted his assets declaration form to ACB which indicates he hold many bank accounts in foreign countries where he worked for UN.
A lists of assets Chaponda declared as of February 1, 2017 seen by Nyasa Times shows that he has 20 real estate properties in Lilongwe, Blantyre, France, Luchenza, Mangochi, Thyolo and Chiradzulu.
According to Chaponda declaration, the source of funds for the property, valued at K853 million, included bank loans and his earnings from the UN, United Kingdom, South Africa, France and his children abroad and Chaponda investments.
In a political rally in his Mulanje South West constituency at Chonde in Mulanje recently, Chaponda said he was ready and prepared to be arrested.
"I have been waiting to be arrested because people have been saying so," said Chaponda, a lawyer by profession.
He denies any wrong-doing.
"The law says you are innocent until proved guilty, so I am not afraid, let them prove me guilty," said Chaponda.
Legal commentator based at South Africa's University of Cape Town, Professor Danwood Chirwa argued that Chaponda has "committed or is alleged to have committed a litany of legal infringements including flouting procurement law, gross negligence in the discharge of his public duties, perjury, arson, corruption and money laundering."
University of Malawi political scientist Boniface Dulani is in record saying that the decision to fire Chaponda from Cabinet was forced on President Peter Mutharika who would have maintained the minister if he had his way.
Dulani said the ‘Maizegate’ just like Cashgate on Joyce Banda will forever be associated with the Mutharika's regime.