George Thapatula Chaponda—the erstwhile Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and Leader of the House— is not off the hook as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has confirmed it is making forensic investigation of suitcases stashed with cash – US$58,000 and MK124 million seized at his house during the raid in February this year.
ACB had raised Chaponda’s residence following a recommendation by the commission of inquiry into Malawi’s maize imports from Zambia that he should be investigated.
The graft-busting body said Chaponda might need to explain the presence of cash in his house.
According to ACB public relations officer Egrita Ndala, the bureau is conducting “a forensic analysis” on what they seized from Chaponda.
But law experts say he faces similar charges of a former junior civil servant who was sentenced to nine years in jail with hard labour for his part in the “cashgate” corruption scandal.
“The case of Honourable Chaponda is similar to that of Victor Sithole who was found with 122 million Malawi kwacha and $22, 000,” observed a local lawyer who is a Senior Counsel.
Sithole, who was government’s Accounts assistant, the second official to be found guilty over Cashgate was found guilty of stealing more than $66,000 in cash.
His arrest in August 2013 after cash was found in his car boot kick-started what became known as the “cashgate” affair – the worst financial scandal in the country’s history.
It became public knowledge a month later following the shooting of the finance ministry’s then budget director Paul Mphwiyo.
The Senior Counsel, who opted for anonymity due to his close ties with government, said Chaponda can face similar charges of Sithole after ACB investigators confiscated K124 million, $57 500, 2 720 Indian rupee, 518 Ethiopian birr, 610 Pula, 1 200 meticais, 1 250 Kenya shillings, 80 Hong Kong dollars, 1 010 Japanese yen, 22 370 South African rands, 55 euros, 29 Zambian kwacha and 100 Namibian dollar.
There has been mixed views from legal experts on Chaponda’s suitcases stashed with cash as some Malawians on social media condemned the former minister for running what they call “Bank Nkhonde”.
Malawian legal commentator based at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, Professor Danwood Chirwa argued:“This particular individual [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.
“He’s cost the state millions of money, including entering into contracts that are more costly than is necessary and hence spending more on a loan secured at taxpayers’ expense.
“In addition, state institutions have been used to cover up and defend his criminal actions. A presidential commission and parliamentary inquiry both spent huge sums of public money on something that should have been investigated by institutions created specially for this purpose,” stated Chirwa.
But a Blantyre-based money laundering law expert Jai Banda argues that currently there is no law that stipulates the maximum amount of money a person can keep on him.
Banda also said there is no crime in keeping foreign currency provided the one who has it obtained it from a legal dealer.
He, however, said authorities can use the Corrupt Practices Act if a person who is
Chaponda has refused to make any comment during the period of investigations.
He however took ACB investigators on a tour of his property in Area 10 in Lilongwe where he showed off some of his townhouses and flats in the high-end suburb.
The dismissed Minister of Agriculture told ACB that he wanted to show them how wealthy he is and justify why he is cash-rich after they confiscated at least K166 million stashed in suitcases at his house.
Chaponda also submitted his assets declaration form to ACB which indicates he hold many bank accounts in foreign countries where he worked for United Nations (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.
ACB deputy director Reyneck Matemba confirmed inspection of some assets of Chaponda.
But the Senior Counsel argue that Chaponda must show some tax return.
“If he can’t then Malawi Revenue Authority should come in and prefer charges of tax evasion,” said the lawyer.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said the millions of cash found stashed in Chaponda’s residence in Lilongwe will form part of the evidence the ACB investigations are gathering.
Chaponda is being investigated by ACB following his suspicious dealings on the procurement of maize from Zambia.
Tembenu said President Peter Mutharika fired Chaponda from the cabinet to pave way for proper and efficient investigations.
He said the ACB is also investigating Transglobe officials and Agriculture ministry principal secretary Erica Maganga, among others.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :