ACB says interview with APM over TPIN abused on Wednesday, law on Bureau’s side, legal expert

The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) says it has responded to the former President of the Republic, Peter Mutharika’s statement where he expressed “reluctance” to grant an interview to the Bureau in connection with the alleged abuse of his Taxpayer’s Identification Number (TPIN) when he was in office.

Responding to a Nyasa Times questionnaire on Tuesday, 27th July, 2021, the Bureau’s Principal Public Relations Officer Egrita Ndala disclosed ACB had responded to the statement by Mutharika.

President Mutharika: Says will remain quiet, not respond to ACB witch-hunt questions

“The Bureau has responded to the letter. It is the position of the Bureau that the interview has to go on tomorrow,” said Ndala in a brief response.

The ACB was scheduled to interrogate the former Head of State on Tuesday, 27th July, 2021, over his suspected involvement in fraudulent importation of billions of Kwacha worth of fertilizer. It is alleged some of his aides when he was at State House in connivance with some Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) officials abused the former President’s duty free status to import such huge amounts of fertilizer.

But in a statement issued on Tuesday, 27th July, the former President raises serious reservations over ACB’s intentions, alleging the interview is politically motivated. Mutharika indicated in the statement he was “reluctant” to grant the interview, citing a number of reasons.

Said Mutharika: “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 fertilizer 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. You continued to keep the accounts frozen for over 270 days until you could no longer renew the Restriction Notice that froze the accounts. During that long period, I was not allowed to access the accounts even for my reasonable living expenses”.

Mutharika argued despite ACB freezing his accounts, he was neither charged nor informed why he was “subjected to that kind of treatment”.

Mutharika argued the Bureau cannot interview him without informing him about the offences he has committed, claiming the move is part of ACB’s “continued persecution and harassment” intended humiliate and taunt him, psychologically.

“It is strange that an institution like ACB with accusatorial and investigative powers would seek to interview me without disclosing the nature of offences that I am accused of. In view of the previous conduct of the ACB towards me, I am reluctant to grant this interview.

“In my view, all this is a sustained political witch-hunt by a State institution. If I, as a former Head of State must be called to answer these questions, then fairness demands that every previous President and Vice President now living must be called upon to explain how their TPIN has been used,” demands APM.

He informs the ACB that for the cited reasons and out of courtesy to the Bureau, he will still listen to the questions “if you decide to proceed” but that he will exercise his right to remain silent unless he is informed that he has committed any offence.

APM concludes: “Thereafter, I will seek legal advice on how best to respond to the questions and it is only then that I may consider to respond to all or any of your questions”.

A legal expert who preferred anonymity stressed that the law is on ACB’s side and that the former President cannot refuse to be interviewed.

He noted, however, that there is no where in the former President’s statement where he said, “I decline to grant the interview”.

“At law he has no such freedom. All the cormer President is saying is that he will not cooperate with the investigation authority to the extent that if they decide to proceed, he will invoke his right to remain silent. His statement can’t stop the ACB from interviewing him, but they can’t force him to answer questions if he invokes section 42 of the Constitution,” he explained in an interview with Nyasa Times on Tuesday evening.

The expert said section 42 prescribes the right not to be compelled to make statements, which could be used as evidence against an individual, and the right to remain silent.

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