Embattled former Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development minister George Chaponda is yet to be charged of any offence, 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.
Sithole was charged with three offences: Money laundering, illegal possession of foreign currency and being found with property reasonably suspected of being stolen and earned himself nine years imprisonment with hard labour.
“On the face of it one wonders what business Chaponda was carrying on to allow him keep that kind of money.
“It is no defence to say that one was keeping dollars in anticipations of a foreign trip. The only defence is that the minister of finance authorised such a transaction. In view of Chaponda’s futile attempt to drag Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe into his mess, it’s very unlikely that the Treasury Czar would want to rescue Chaponda,” commented the law expert.
He added: “Any strategic prosecutor should simply charge Chaponda with illegal possession of forex, within a week secure conviction and have Chaponda serve custodial sentence, thereafter follow up with those other charges.”
Meanwhile, Chaponda took Anti Corruption Bureau (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 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
Meanwhile, a constitutional law expert Edge Kanyongolo, who is lecturer at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, has said Chaponda can still be arrested despite constitutional immunity guarantee he enjoys as Member of Parliament.
Parliament is sitting in Lilongwe for the mid-term budget review.
“The immunity of an MP exists when they are in their way to parliament, within the premises of parliament and when they are on their way from parliament. However, there is no general rule which stops the arrest of an MP when parliament is sitting,” explained Kanyongolo.
However, he clarified that an arrest also depends on the “discretion” of the law enforcement agency.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu has since said has the K166 million found stashed in Chaponda’s residence in Lilongwe will form part of the evidence the Anti-Corruption Bureau investigations are gathering.
Chaponda is being investigated by ACB following his suspicious dealings on the procurement of maize from Zambia.
Tembenu said Mutharika fired him 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.
Opposition parliamentarians said the sacking of Chaponda from cabinet was too little too late, saying he could have been fired long ago.
Presidential spokesman Mgeme Kalilani said President Mutharika “thought it wise to relieve Dr Chaponda of his responsibilities to enable him to attend to the allegations being levelled against him.”
According to Kalilani, President Mutharika wants ACB to work freely for full implementation of the recommendations by the inquiries commissioned by Parliament and the Head of State which they all dammed Chaponda.
Meanwhile, ACB has said in a statement made available to Nyasa Times that investigations of such magnitude require enough time to ensure that the process is conducted thoroughly and in conformity to legal requirements.
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